Policy & Practice | April 2022

experiences can inform policy and practice that will, in turn, enable human services programs to better meet the needs of Black families and support their well-being. 2 A NewWay to Conceptualize and Use Research on Black Families With Children Child Trends—along with other researchers and organizations 3 —is actively attempting to shift approaches to research on Black families. Toward that end, we have developed a concep- tual model that provides a new way to think about the various avenues by which research (including data) informs policy and practice, while also recognizing the demographic changes in, and varied contexts of, Black families (see Figure 1). The conceptual model recog- nizes various levels of policy (on the left)—federal, state, and local—and the ways in which policies affect the systems, institutions, and organiza- tions (in the center) with which Black families with children (on the right), interface. The arrows in the model indicate bidirectional and differential levels of influence between the model components, with solid-line arrows representing a stronger level of influ- ence than dashed ones. The reduced level of influence represented by the dashed arrows from Black families with children toward systems, institu- tions, and organizations recognizes the ways in which context—including historical discrimination, racism, and oppression—can limit the agency and power of Black families, despite their numerous assets, strengths, and efforts to ensure family well-being. This model can be used to guide research, including that which is undertaken by and for programs that serve Black families with children. Recommendations for Human Services Policymakers and Practitioners We contend that research that is grounded in the three historical per- spectives shared previously—and that is not based on a conceptual or theoretical framework such as the one we have developed—can result in an incomplete picture of Black families.

success also tends to over-rely on White middle-class outcomes as the standard families should achieve. n The third perspective—that indi- vidual Black families can navigate systemic racism with varying degrees of success based on their socioeconomic and cultural assets— focuses primarily on an intra-racial understanding of Black families, but often does not include Black immi- grants and still tends to center White middle-class standards as aspira- tional outcomes. While these points of view are much wider ranging and gradated than can be described in this space, their lack of nuance in approaching the study of Black families does suggest a need for shifts in perspective. Our work suggests that a forward-looking research perspective that more fully captures Black families’ diverse

The end result is the development and maintenance of policies and practices that may not benefit families, and could potentially be harmful to their well-being. We offer the following suggestions to strengthen the ways in which research and data can be used to inform policies and practices that better serve Black families who interface with human services organizations and systems. These recommendations focus specifi- cally on the examination of personal perceptions and organizational culture, and on ways that human services professionals can be more intentional about how they collect, interpret, and use data and research. Maintain a curious and critical stance about research and data on Black families that are used to inform program policies and practices. Given the importance of research in policymaking and human services provision, we suggest that human services professionals draw on research that accounts for often-rapid changes in Black families’ demo- graphics, circumstances, and assets and strengths. There is considerable diversity among Black families in the United States, and research that informs policy and programs should consider a range of family and house- hold structures and characteristics. For example, much prior research on Black families has focused on family types such as female-headed households, even though Black children live in married, cohabiting, coparenting, and single-parent households (including single parents who live with an unmar- ried partner or with another family). 5 Many studies of Black families have also been limited in terms of demo- graphic characteristics, which has led programs to identify families simply as Black or African American without acknowledging that family members may be Black and another race, or may identify as Black and not from the United States—distinctions that may imply considerable differences in families’ lived experiences and access to resources. In short, policymakers and human services professionals who implement programs should draw upon national, state, and local research and data that attend to variation

Chrishana M. Lloyd is a Senior Research Associate at Child Trends.

Sara Shaw is a Senior Researcher for Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.

Brent Franklin is the Editorial Director at Child Trends.


Policy&Practice April 2022

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