Centering Black Girlhood: Perspectives from Foster Care

Regina Dix and Martine Jones
Youth Collaboratory
Author Regina Dix as a young girl.

“You deserve safety.
You deserve protection.
You deserve love.
You deserve peace.
Breathe beloved.
Let's do it together. Right now!
Breathe in what I'm saying. Breathe out what you were thinking.
We tell the world they don't have to be anything but themselves to be worthy. And then we work until the stress is about to kill us to prove our worth. It's not just you. It’s not just us. It's the paradox of deeply melanated women. But right now I need you to hear me, because if we are still alive, then there is still hope to beat this thing.”

―Tarana Burke


I single-storied myself through most of my childhood and into my young adulthood. When I worked in an all-girls unit of a residential treatment facility, I subconsciously invited them into the same single story to which I had a personal subscription: that our Black skin carried limitations.

I longed for something I didn't have the words for but knew it had to exist. I wanted it for myself and for the young girls in care, many who looked like me that I worked with everyday.  What I later realized is I longed for things like equity, representation, psychological safety, joy, and liberation.

When Martine and I began to work on an exploration of Black girlhood and foster care, she added something different and important to the conversation. 

As a former foster care youth, her lived expertise, while vastly different, had so many intersections with my own experiences. And while I wasn’t a former foster alumni, the authentic way that Martine brings her full self to this work brought me full circle to the time in my life when I didn’t have the words to describe or the vision to see the change I so desperately wanted to see in the world. Working with and learning from Martine has been a refreshing reminder that Black girl magic doesn’t exist in single stories.

Centering Black Girlhood: Perspectives from Foster Care became our passion project, birthed from experience, intersectionality, legacy, and liberation. Its content is not only a combination of history, best practices, and data, but also inspired by personal, lived expertise.

Overrepresented and Underserved

The disproportionate representation of Black girls in the foster care system is not a new phenomenon. It has persisted for decades, with little progress made in addressing this systemic issue.

In fact, data speaks to this alarming trend. According to Kids Count Data Center, Black children make up only 14% of the total child population in the U.S., yet they account for 23% of children in the foster care system. This disparity is even more pronounced for Black girls, who are 2.5 times more likely to enter foster care than their white counterparts.

There are many contributing factors that perpetuate this issue, many stemming from poverty and socioeconomic disparities, racial bias in the child welfare system, and intergenerational trauma and adversity to name a few.

Black children make up only 14% of the total child population in the U.S., yet they account for 23% of children in the foster care system.

In a 2022 interview with Verywell Family, Kimberly Offutt, EdD, national director of family support and engagement at Bethany Christian Services, shared that Black children have been historically overrepresented in the foster care system.

"Statistically, about 70% of the children who enter foster care, enter care because of neglect, which is poverty related (homelessness, failure to thrive, substance abuse, etc). Poverty statistically impacts minority families at a higher rate than non-minority families.”

A Legacy of Separation

To meet youth where they are, we must critically examine why they are there. This involves addressing systemic biases, providing adequate support and resources, and implementing culturally competent practices that acknowledge and counteract the historical and ongoing impacts of racism.

The relationship between Black bodies in the foster care system and slavery is rooted in historical systemic racism and social control. During slavery, Black families were often forcibly separated, and this dehumanization laid the groundwork for ongoing discrimination. After emancipation, Black Americans faced further disenfranchisement through laws and biased social systems.

Today, Black children are disproportionately represented in the foster care system due to structural racism and economic inequities. This system continues the legacy of family separation and control seen during slavery, exacerbating trauma and instability. Understanding this historical context is critical.

Changing the Ecology

Historically, Black girls have been marginalized within the foster care system, facing a confluence of challenges that stem from both their race and gender. The adultification bias, for instance, results in less patience from social service professionals, leading to harsher punishments for typical adolescent behaviors. This not only diminishes their childhood but also subjects them to greater scrutiny and higher expectations.

This neglect has led to systemic inequities that affect their emotional and physical well-being. By examining ecological systems such as the chronosystem, macrosystem, exosystem, mesosystem, and microsystem, we gain a comprehensive understanding of the various influences on their lives.

An Ecological Framework for Black Girls in Foster Care

Chronosystem: Changes Over Time
Black girls in foster care often face disruptions in family structure, which can significantly impact their development over time. Understanding these changes is crucial for providing continuous and stable support.

Macrosystem: Broader Social and Cultural Values
The societal attitudes and cultural norms surrounding race and gender heavily influence the experiences of Black girls in foster care. These values often shape their opportunities and interactions within the system.

Exosystem: Indirect Environments
The environments of foster parents, neighbors, and extended family members indirectly impact Black girls by influencing the resources and support they receive. These indirect factors can either enhance or hinder their growth.

Mesosystem: Connections and Interactions
Interactions between different immediate environments, such as school and foster families, play a significant role in shaping the experiences of Black girls in foster care. Positive connections can lead to better outcomes.

Microsystem: Immediate Environments
Direct interactions with foster families, schools, and peers are critical. These relationships significantly affect the day-to-day experiences and development of Black girls in foster care.

Neglectful Ecology and Its Impacts
A neglectful ecology, where the environment fails to support Black girls adequately, increases their vulnerability to exploitation and marginalization. Lack of proper supervision, cultural respect, and tailored support exacerbates these risks.

The overrepresentation of Black girls in the foster care system is a complex and deeply rooted issue and one that only a healthy and supportive ecology can fully address. Their wellbeing and future success requires that we:

  • Emphasize cultural sensitivity and celebrating Black girls' heritage
  • Provide fair access to education, wellness, and extracurricular activities
  • Foster connections with mentors and peers who understand their unique challenges
  • Address past traumas with culturally competent mental health services
  • Encourage Black girls to advocate for themselves and participate in decision-making
  • Prioritize academic success and personal growth
  • Ensure regular medical care and promote healthy lifestyles
  • Advocate for policy changes that address systemic biases

Our Call to Action

By understanding the historical context, examining the contributing factors, and implementing trauma-informed and culturally responsive practices, we can work towards creating a more equitable and just foster care system that supports the wellbeing and positive outcomes of all children, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized. Importantly, we can empower these girls to thrive.

This call to action urges everyone to utilize their power and influence with whatever level of positionality they may have to fortify change. Policymakers, child welfare professionals, and community leaders must take decisive steps to address this pressing issue and ensure that Black girls in the foster care system receive the care, support, and opportunities they deserve.

Centering Black Girlhood was personal for us on so many levels. This passion project is our way of calling people in with the hope to reach as many people across the field as possible; to build content that is culturally responsive; and to offer strategies with a comprehensive and holistic approach to supportive services. Centering Black Girlhood is representation. It is visibility. It's a battle cry honoring those who came before us while influencing change for those who will follow.

And to that Black girl in care who had a dream but couldn't find the words to verbalize it and didn't see the representation to visualize it, this is for you.  

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” 

―Harriet Tubman

More Resources to Explore

Books/Curriculum to Share

Books for Youth


About the Authors

Martine Jones (she/her) is a Training and Capacity-Building Associate, Youth Justice based in Los Angeles, known as the traditional ancestral territory of the Tongva people. She is passionate about holistic practices to approach the mental health of intersectional youth, inspired by her personal journey through the foster care system. She channels her former foster youth expertise as a TA provider to champion research-informed and evidence-based strategies for prevention, intervention, and aftercare practices for RHY Program requirements.

Regina Dix (she/her) is a Training and Capacity-Building Manager at Youth Collaboratory, bringing over 15 years of passion and experience supporting youth and young adults across the education and youth services field. Regina believes that representation matters and through her own lived experiences, she strives to bridge the gaps of access, equity, and visibility, across systems that impact marginalized youth, including BIPOC youth with disabilities.