B. Addressing Equity

Many Texas judges want to know what they can do to combat disproportionality from the bench. As community leaders, judges are in a key position to lead efforts in their jurisdiction to address these important issues. Advancing equity in the child welfare system requires acknowledgement of the existing disparities and understanding root causes.

The first step is to establish an understanding of race equity and inclusion principles.[110] Key concepts to understand include:

1. Equity refers to “the effort to provide different levels of support based on an individual's or group's needs in order to achieve fairness in outcomes. Working to achieve equity acknowledges unequal starting places and the need to correct the imbalance.”[111]

2. Structural, institutional, or systemic bias refers to a “set of processes that produce unfairness in the courtroom . . . [which] lock in past inequalities, reproduce them, and . . . exacerbate them . . . without formally treating persons worse simply because of attitudes and stereotypes about the groups to which they belong.”

3. Explicit bias “refers to attitudes and beliefs that are consciously held about a person or group of people.”

4. Implicit bias “refers to subconscious feelings, attitudes, and stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decision-making processes in an unconscious manner.” [112]

There are many trainings available on equity and implicit bias, in-person and online, that can educate court staff. Judges can utilize a checklist to provide reminders during a case to be aware of and guard against bias. The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) developed the Courts Catalyzing Change Preliminary Protective Hearing Benchcard, a practical and concrete judicial tool for use at the first court hearing. This bench card reflects best practices for one of the most critical stages in a child abuse and neglect case.[113] Additionally, the Children's Commission has created a bench card for quick reference which is included at the back of this Bench Book.

The second step is to engage diverse populations and stakeholders in meaningful conversations and practice improvement.[114] Local equity work leaders might be good partners to inform and further efforts to address these issues in child welfare. Additionally, the Supreme Court of Texas and Texas Court of Criminal Appeals spearheaded the Beyond the Bench: Law, Justice, and Communities Summit on December 14, 2016 and a tool kit is available to replicate this event in local jurisdictions.[115]

Additional Resources:

•   Project Implicit, Implicit Association Test (IAT)[116]

•   Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, Making Sense of Your IAT Results[117]

•   NCJFCJ, Addressing Bias in Delinquency and Child Welfare Systems Bench Card [118]

•   The Annie E. Casey Foundation, Race Equity and Inclusion Action Guide: Seven Steps to Advance and Embed Race Equity and Inclusion within Your Organization[119]

•   The American Bar Association, Race and Poverty Bias in the Child Welfare System: Strategies for Child Welfare Practitioners[120]

•   Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP), Key Equity Terms and Concepts: A Glossary for Shared Understanding [121]

•   The American Bar Association, Implicit Bias Videos and Toolkit[122]

•   National Center for State Courts, 2020 Ensuring Justice in Child Welfare Summit[123]