Heroes of Child Welfare – Black History Month

Paper faces of color cut out and placed in the shape of a heart with the words Heroes of Child Welfare Black History Month

Heroes of Child Welfare – Black History Month

The historical contributions of people of color are undeniable.  From the courageous work of Harriet Tubman to free enslaved people through the underground railroad to the amazing minds of NASA’s West Computers, to the courage and fortitude of the Little Rock Nine, to Rosa Parks’s refusal to give up her seat on the bus, history is full of well known and many not so well known examples of the invaluable contributions of African Americans. 

One such example is Janie Porter Barrett whose mother was a former slave.  Porter Barrett was a social reformer, educator, welfare worker, and founder of the Virginia Industrial School for Colored Girls.  Before the founding of the school in 1915, African American teenage girls who were delinquent or even orphaned or whose parents could not provide for them were sent to jail.  The Industrial School offered a caring environment and acceptance.  The teens were able to prepare for the work world while at school.  The school was so successful, that it still exists today as the Barrett Learning Center.

Arkansan Dr. George Edmund Haynes was born into poverty in Pine Bluff.  Dr. Haynes went on to receive a bachelor’s degree from Fisk University, a master’s degree from Yale, and a Ph.D. at Columbia.  Dr. Haynes had seen firsthand the problems facing Black Americans in the South and continued to study social problems for African Americans and completed his doctoral dissertation, The Negro at Work in New York City. His accomplishments are numerous including co-founding the National Urban League and founding the Department of Social Sciences at Fisk University. Thanks to Dr. Haynes’s work, African American workers saw inclusion in unions, as well as advancement for better work conditions and child labor practices. 

Another influential African American Arkansan was Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark who was born in Hot Springs in 1917.  Obtaining both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Howard University, her decision to conduct her master’s thesis, “The Development of Consciousness of Self in Negro Pre-School Children” was influenced by her work with children in an all-black nursery school.  After graduating, Phipps Clark witnessed how segregation impacted the self-esteem of African Americans.  She also went on to complete a Ph. D. at Columbia.  Seeing a lack of mental health services available to black children while working at a children’s home in Harlem, she co-founded the Northside Center for Child Development.  Dr. Phipps Clark’s testimony before the Supreme Court on the negative effects of segregation of children contributed to US public schools being desegregated in the landmark case, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas.

Carrie Steele Logan was born into slavery and orphaned at an early age. While working as a maid at Union Station in Atlanta, Georgia she had great compassion for the abandoned children she saw there.  She began taking the children home with her and providing them with shelter, comfort, and guidance. Her resourcefulness led her to publish an autobiography that she sold to raise funds, solicit community donations, and sell her own home in order to found the Carrie Steele Orphans’ Home.  This is now the oldest black orphanage in the nation.  At the Orphans’ Home children attended school, learned domestic skills and farm work, and were taught to pray and recite from the Bible.  Mrs. Logan’s gravestone in Atlanta reads, “The Mother of Orphans. She has done what she could.”

We are extraordinarily grateful for the work of these trailblazers in child welfare.  It has paved the way for many others, but there is still a long way to go.  We acknowledge that there continues to be an overrepresentation of people of color in the foster care system and disproportionality in positive outcomes for families of color.  We also recognize that our organization needs continued growth in diversity among our Board, Staff, and Volunteers.  In 2022, Pulaski County CASA was awarded an Arkansas Black Hall of Fame grant to support our recruitment efforts.  At the time the grant was awarded, only 13% of our assigned volunteers were African American, but 62% of the children we were serving were African American.  We have been working hard to close that gap and as of today, 18% of our assigned volunteers are African American, while 60% of the children we are serving are African American.

To find out how to become a foster or adoptive parent in Arkansas, contact DCFS (https://dhs.arkansas.gov/dcfs/fcadoptinq/fca_inquiry.aspx) or Foster Love (https://fosterlovear.org/) or The CALL (https://thecallinarkansas.org/).  To find out how to become a Court Appointed Special Advocate in Pulaski or Perry Counties, email [email protected].  For anywhere else in Arkansas, visit https://www.arkansascasa.net/.

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