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Building Trust with BIPOC Youth in the Child Welfare System


To ensure that our volunteers and staff have the knowledge to effectively advocate for ALL children, CASA of the River Region has been working on a diverse list of continuing education opportunities for the 2023 year.


This month, we were honored to have Steven Kniffley present our in-service on “Strategies for establishing trust and building meaningful relationships with BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) youth”. Dr. Kniffley is the Chief Diversity Officer and an Associate professor at Spalding University. He is also the Director of Collective Care Center, which happens to be one of few clinics that focuses on racial trauma within the US.


Like many other systems that exists within the US, the child welfare system has disadvantaged people of color. In 2020, African American/Black children made up 9% of Kentucky’s population and accounted for 12% of Kentucky kids within the foster care system. This is considered a Disproportionality; Disproportionality occurs when a group is overrepresented in a particular category when compared to other groups. This disproportionality is significant because according to the data, children who were White, Hispanic or two or more races had a lower percentage of children within foster care when compared to the Kentucky population. The over representation of African American/Black children within the child welfare system is believed to exist for many reasons.


According to Ellis (2019) children and families of color experience disproportionalities within the child welfare system for many reasons including but not limited to:

- Correlation between poverty and maltreatment

- Visibility or exposure bias

- Limited access to services

- Geographic restrictions

- Child welfare professionals knowingly or unknowingly letting personal biases impact their actions or decisions.


This has created a divide and mistrust between people of color and those who work within the child welfare system.

Dr. Kniffley proposed 3 components that could help bridge this gap.

1. Explore and be aware of possible biases towards BIPOC youth.

a. Implicit biases can be changed by taking the time to intentionally develop new associations.

b. Research and learn about the actual lived experiences of the group that you may have biases towards.

c. Take time to explore your emotional reaction to these individuals and the values that reinforce those reactions.

d. Foster positive inter-group contact with these individuals. Spend time with them and get to know them in a new way.

e. Be aware of stereotypes that you may have and that may be reflected onto others through media.

2. Name the mistrust.

a. Understand where the idea of mistrust has come from.

b. Acknowledge the ways that society has created an image of certain individuals and how that continues to affect them.

c. Acknowledge that these biases and stereotypes have caused physical, mental, and emotional harm to certain individuals and that because of this they may have a difficult time trusting.

3. Invite a collaborative problem-solving conversation.

a. Dr. Kniffley noted 5 principles for collaborative conversations.

i. Express empathy through reflective listening.

ii. Develop discrepancy between the child's “goals or values and their current behavior”.

iii. Avoid argument and direct confrontation.

iv. Adjust to the child's resistance rather than opposing it directly.

v. Support self-efficacy and optimism.


Dr. Kniffley left our volunteers with the following questions to reflect on. Please look over the questions and think about how you would go about interacting with a child and/or their family who may be different than you.


Self-reflection questions:

What are factors that can influence the client child as you see them?

What areas of ambivalence might this child have?

How would you go about building trust with this child?

What do you think are some barriers this child may have to trusting you as their appointed CASA?

How do you think this child would go about working to convey their family history to you?

What would be most helpful for you to know about this child?



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