The Imperative to Address Inequities and Racial Disparity

Child & Family is in a position to build on its history, diverse staff, and volunteers in order to strengthen the fabric of the communities that we serve.  Where better to do this than the small, complex and diverse State of Rhode Island. -Marty Sinnott, President & CEO.

In my newsletter to staff I usually share information on our budget or programs but for this note I thought I would share some thoughts on some bigger issues that are a backdrop on our mission and vision. We are all here for a purpose. This question goes to why I am here. I am sharing this on our blog and through social media and invite you to add your perspective and thoughts.

I recently was asked by a very civically engaged donor if we as an agency were experiencing any dynamics related to the racial and civic unrest seen in response to the unjustified shootings of African Americans by police. He asked what I thought all of this meant for the mission and programs of Child & Family. What a good and important question for us to ask ourselves as individuals and as an organization.

–              My first thought was one related to the fact that we are an organization that strives to be diverse, equitable and inclusive. No doubt room to travel the path of improvement, but on our way.

–              We should begin the discussion recognizing that disparities in how minorities are treated by institutions such as law enforcement, criminal justice and child welfare systems do exist.  Institutions can discriminate against nearly anyone at some point in time but the consistent and persistent disparities and inequities against minorities in this country, especially African Americans, has been so prevalent that it has defined the existential experience of far too many people.  This is especially true in the area of child welfare, an area of policy and practice that we are very familiar with at Child & Family.  In Rhode Island, African American children are two and half times more likely to be placed in out of home care than a white child. That is a defining moment for hundreds of children.

At Child & Family, we will continue to recognize how institutions and systems discriminate and create life defining disparities. With urgency, we will advocate and serve all of the children and families in our care.  We need to also be focused on outcomes and be transparent when engaging stakeholders.

–              We are no stranger to issues of social justice.  For 150 years Child & Family has been breaking down barriers and supporting opportunities for children, families and seniors. I find personal and professional satisfaction in knowing that I am a part of an organization that believes that all members of our community, regardless of race, religion, academic achievement or sexual preference, deserve respect and access to the skills and supports to be successful in our society.  We need more partners in this mission, including those with the philanthropic motivation to support our mission financially.

–              At Child & Family we are not in a position to judge.  With respect, we work to have a culture where we look for what we have in common with one another and those we serve. Families, even dysfunctional ones, more often than not, share the same hopes and aspirations.

–              Access and respect for all people are different than entitlement without responsibility.  Social justice is different than income redistribution.  As a nonprofit, our tax status requires that we take a policy and service perspective rather than a political position.

–              Each of us has to examine our own personal experience and biases. Personally, I know that I was fortunate to have been born into a two parent loving, economically strong home that provided me with reinforcements to build on my own strengths. The community expected success. I have worked hard throughout my life for which I will take some credit, but my success was also predicted by the family and community into which I was born.

–              I believe that the theme of “Black Lives Matter” does not imply that all lives, other ethnic or racial groups, do not also matter equally.  By calling attention to a long overdue problem in this country, we are not minimizing other issues of inequality.

–              Child & Family is in a position to build on its history, diverse staff, and volunteers in order to strengthen the fabric of the communities that we serve.  Where better to do this than the small, complex and diverse State of Rhode Island.

–              Here is an amazing number; over 50% of children under the age of 6 in this country are minorities. This means that in time the “minority” will become the “majority”.

–              If you are interested, follow the attached link to a very informative new study on the relationship between ethnicity, income level and the community in which you live:   https://nextcity.org/daily/entry/maps-childhood-inequity-opportunity-us-cities

Marty Sinnott
President & CEO