SPECIAL MINI-SERIES: Race and Racism in Child Welfare Part 3 –Birth, Foster, & Adoptive Families

Join Tabitha Moore as she explores critical themes in Race & Racism in Child Welfare with Dr. Ken Hardy. In this series Tabitha and Ken explore critical themes in race/racism as they relate to the Child Welfare Workforce, Caregivers, and children and youth of color in the child welfare system. Please note- although each episode in this mini-series does have a distinct focus, our hope is that you listen to all three, in the order of their release, as some of the concepts Tabitha and Ken discuss will build on ideas from the previous episode. Part 3 – Focuses on Families & Caregivers. Make sure to listen to the end for a special bonus conversation with Tabitha that digs deeper into how to talk to families about race.

Guest Info:

Tabitha Moore (she/they), is the owner and principal consultant of Intentional Evolution,LLC. She has been consulting on the topics of identity-based equity and racial justice for over 20 years. Her work centers on the intersections of identity and systems of care, learning how and whether said systems promote, inhibit, or prohibit healthy individual and community identity development. She has worked extensively in systems of care including organizations that serve people with disabilities and the fields of mental health, law enforcement, education, and child welfare.

Tabitha earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Wells College by creating her own major, the Psychology of Latin America in the Context of Its Language and Culture; a convergence of psychology, sociology, Spanish language, women’s studies, and Latin American cultural studies/anthropology. For her research on women and identity development conducted in the Dominican Republic, she earned the honor of graduating with distinction.

Tabitha maintains her license to practice Marriage and Family Therapy; a degree earned in 2002 from Syracuse University, and is nearing completion of her doctoral degree from Saybrook University in the field of Transformative Social Change. She has the privilege of being awarded the following honors: the Vermont Leaders and Achievers Award from VSAC in 2019, the New England Leaders and Achievers Award in 2019, the Rights and Democracy Human Rights Award in 2020, NAACP Rutland Lifetime Achievement Award in 2021, and the Wells College Outstanding Young Alumnae Award in 2021.

In addition to her career and activism, Tabitha is the mother to three human children and 4 dogs. She finds peace and rejuvenation hiking with her family, exercising, eating high quality dark chocolate and testing out the nearest spas. You can reach Tabitha by email: tabitha@intentionalevolutionconsulting.com

Kenneth V. Hardy, Ph.D. is the President of the Eikenberg Academy for Social Justice, and Director of the Eikenberg Institute for Relationships in New York City. He is also a Professor of Family Therapy at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Dr. Hardy has provided Diversity and Racial Sensitivity training and consultations to an extensive list of Health and Human Services agencies as well as a host of educational institutions. He is a frequent workshop presenter, trainer, and consultant on the topics of cultural and racial diversity, trauma and oppression.

Dr. Hardy has published prolifically and is the author of numerous articles and book chapters. He has co-authored the following books: Minorities and Family Therapy; Teens Who Hurt: Clinical Interventions to Break the Cycle of Adolescent Violence; and Revisioning Family Therapy: Race, Culture, and Gender in Clinical Practice. His latest book is Culturally Sensitive Supervision and Training: Diverse Perspectives and Practical Applications. He is also featured in several therapy videotapes as well as a documentary devoted to slavery. His videotape “The Psychological Residuals of Slavery” has been well received by both the professional and lay communities for serving as a catalyst to promote conversations about race relationships.

Dr. Hardy has received considerable acclaim for the contributions that his publications and videotapes have made toward challenging our field to think critically about issues of diversity, trauma and oppression. He has been a frequent contributor to the popular media and has been featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show, Dateline NBC, and 20/20, the Discovery Health Channel, and ABC Nightline. Dr. Hardy maintains a practice in New York, New York.

Show Notes:

Want more from Ken?
Check out the Eikenberg Academy Website:

Or watch this short video:
Making Talk about Race our Work with Dr. Ken Hardy (4 mins)


Cassie Gillespie (00:03):

Hello, I’m Cassie Gillespie and you’re listening to Welcome to the Field, a podcast for child welfare workers, caregivers, and community partners. Today, we are bringing you the last episode in our three-part mini-series on race and racism with Tabitha Moore and Ken Hardy. Over the last three weeks, Tabitha and Ken have explored critical themes in race and racism as they relate to the child welfare workforce and children and youth of color in the child welfare system. Although each episode in this series does have a distinct focus. Our hope is that you’ll listen to all three in the order of their release, as some of the concepts Tabitha and Ken discuss, build on ideas from the previous episode. So if you’re just joining us, please go back and listen to the first two episodes in this three-part series. Today, Tabitha and Ken will uplift and discuss critical themes in race and racism as they applied to Vermont foster and adoptive families. And make sure you stay till the end, because we have an extra segment where Tabitha and I go a little deeper into how to talk to families about race. Here we go.

Tabitha Moore (01:11):

Thanks Cassie and hello everyone. Tabitha Moore here to welcome you to this episode of Welcome to the Field. I’ll be with you for this leg of our series. As we dive head and heart first into talking about race and racism in child welfare. I’m fortunate to be joined by racial justice legend, expert and marriage and family therapy icon Dr. Kenneth Hardy. Dr. Hardy is a clinical and organizational consultant at the Eikenberg Institute for Relationships in New York, New York, where he also serves as director. He provides racially focused trauma, informed training, executive coaching and consultation to a diverse network of individuals and organizations throughout the United States and abroad. He’s a former professor of family therapy at both Drexel University in Philadelphia and Syracuse University in New York, and has also served as the director of Children, Families, and Trauma at the Ackerman Institute for the Family in New York York.

Tabitha Moore (01:59):

Ken is joining me for three episodes as we explore themes of race around these critical issues. And this is our third episode. Ken, welcome.

Ken Hardy (02:07):

Thank you very much.

New Speaker (02:07):

Welcome back. I should say. So Vermont has a disproportionate number of children of color in the child welfare system. And with 94.7% of the state being white, we also have a large number of white led interracial foster families and families in general. We also have a number of families of color who come into contact with our child welfare system. So in today’s episode, we want to uplift and discuss race and racism with foster and adoptive families. So my first question for you, Ken, is what are the considerations and caveats that you can think of for families of color as they engage the child welfare system?

Ken Hardy (02:43):

Well, I think that to really be aware that which they are that race matters and that to trust their guts, because I think oftentimes that families of color tend to second guess themselves and internalize issues that probably should not be internalized. So I think just to, to really understand that, that in all of our systems in society, that that race is a significant issue. And if they’re sensing issues that have to do with race to trust your gut and to find someone that they can actually talk to and with, and, and preferably someone who could be an advocate for them, I think that would be really important.

Tabitha Moore (03:28):

And how in a state like Vermont, where the workforce is overwhelmingly white, how can families, how can they do?

Ken Hardy (03:37):

Because I think it’s possible that there could be someone who doesn’t share someone, whites, who doesn’t share their racial background, who could potentially, could potentially be that person they could talk to. And so this is where I’m, I’m thinking about trusting one’s gut, because I think there’s an intuitive sense that people of color have from living in a racially conscious world that denies race, that there’s an intuitive sense of what people call a have about race. And so I think the chances are there’s a greater probability in Vermont that it would very likely be someone white and not a person of color. And so I think to be able to to put one’s antennas out and trying to sort out who is the white person in my orbit, that it may be remotely safe to talk to about these issues. And again, it’s not a sum zero game.

Ken Hardy (04:30):

So it may be that it is about who is more safe than someone else, but I think that even taking that risk and having that conversation with another white person where you’re not 100% sure it’s safe to do that is far superior to having experiences that you can express that you have to stop. Because I think that when people of color and family of color brushed up against racial issues and there’s no outlet those feelings, get stuff that creates a kind of internal toxin that becomes self-defeating over a period of time. And so I just think it’s important that whatever those experiences are defined someone where you can actually have a conversation with it. And it may dependent that maybe you, maybe you are not in a situation where you can be 100% honest with that person or 100% open, but even if you can be 50% where you can at least talk about what was uncomfortable for you or how you saw it, or you felt this particular way, I think is important to infuse that information back into the system, because I think once it’s out there it has the potential to, to change that dynamic, even if the recipient of that feedback denies it, I think the worst possible thing which is the concern and worry I always have is it families of color will feel and fear that their messages will not be received and alternatively we’ll stuff them.

Ken Hardy (06:03):

And I think the process of stuffing it is problematic.

Tabitha Moore (06:07):

So I know that question was, was about parents, of color, of kids, of color. Do you, or do you see anything different for a white parents who have kids of color that are engaged with the foster or I’m sorry, would the child welfare system?

Ken Hardy (06:20):

Yeah, because I hear some differences that I think that there’s a tendency for white parents because they live their lives as white people to under endow the significance of race. I think it’s possible for families of color to over endow, the significance of race and some families of color to over endow but not engage. And because white families tend to under endow the significance of rage, there’s a lack of engagement. So if a white parent may be less likely to see a racial situation as racial, and because they don’t see this racial, then doesn’t pursue it as such. But I think it’s important for white families, white parents, of children, of color, to sort of sharpen their racial lens, look at the world through to recognize that that while they may love the child that they have, the child has two fundamentally different experiences in life and they’re perceived differently.

Ken Hardy (07:20):

And so the white parent has to imagine the world that he shared, they’re looking at through the eyes of that child of color and that will heighten their sensitivity to race. But then I think that white parents, even the system, even the child welfare system, feel much more emboldened and much more empowered to speak than families of color. And so I think that the critical issue with white parents is to see, and a critical parent issue with families of color is to speak because I think tend to see it, but speaking about it as difficult, I think it’s a little bit harder for white families to see.

Tabitha Moore (07:59):

And so as their kids are coming to them, you know, and having these experiences, you know for families of color, we often will automatically bring it through that race filter. And through that racism filter, whereas white families aren’t that that’s not a natural filter for them. So they need to develop that filter so that when their kid is experiencing an issue or whenever they’re interacting with the system, they’re thinking about race.

Ken Hardy (08:22):

Absolutely and I think because what happens is if it’s a child of color comes from white parents and said, you know, Samantha, who’s just behind me in school continues to touch my hair. And I think it’s because I’m black and the white parents says, why I don’t think it has anything to do with race. Because I can remember being in school and kids were touching my hair. Well, you have the same experience, but because the white parents hair was touched doesn’t mean that it’s not racial for that child of color.

Tabitha Moore (08:53):


Ken Hardy (08:54):

And so you’re right so, so it’s, it’s to be able to honor that, then it’s considered that it through a racial lens and then to take action accordingly rather than dismissing it.

Tabitha Moore (09:04):

So for white parents, it’s learning to parent in a racialized world.

Ken Hardy (09:09):

Exactly. And you’re having to see the world, not as you see it, not as you imagine it, but as your, as your child of color experiences it and describes it.

Tabitha Moore (09:20):

Thank you. That’s really powerful. And so, you know, we’ve talked about families of origin. Let’s talk a little bit about foster families. You know, we have a lot of really loving people here in this state who want to take in any child that they can. And oftentimes one of the things that we see is interracial fostering here. So can you speak to the foster families for just a bit about how they can prepare for, and support kids of color in their care, especially if they’ve never had experience with kids of color, kids of that particular race?

Ken Hardy (09:48):

Yes. I mean, I think a it’s important obviously to love them the way you would, any child, which most foster parents do. But I think the critical challenge for white parents fostering children of color is creating a space for those children to be immersed in their own sort of racial culture. And to have a willingness to partake of that as well. I was working with a foster father and Tennessee who had a black, he and his wife, had a black child. And it was interesting to me because they had a black child because he was over 60 years old and he reported that in Tennessee as part of stature. I don’t know what’s his true and obvious way to report it to me was that the, on a certain age that you were considered higher high risk adoption and high-risk fostering because of his age and the only child that he could adopt was a black child, which that just requires another whole segment on institutional racism within the system.

Ken Hardy (10:59):

But that’s not even why I bring this point up and that he had done a lot of reading, had listened to a lot of tapes of mine and so forth. And he was proud to tell me how that he and his wife made sure that his son went to a black church and that he had these uniquely black experiences that was important to him. And he had learned that from all of his reading. And so that was great, but the problem was that they dropped the child off to go to the black church. They themselves didn’t do it. And when a child was having these uniquely black experiences, they were not a part of it, so that it was still a segregated experience. And I think it sent a rather complicated message to the child. And so I think for white fostering families I think there has to be a willingness to change how you live your life, that the privilege that white people have to live fairly segregated, white lives actually is, has to be sacrifice and compromise when you adopt or foster children of color. And so I don’t think just dropping them off for those experiences is enough. I think you have to become a part of those experience.

Tabitha Moore (12:16):

I think that that’s wonderful. And I think about, you know, how many black churches we have in Vermont, and we’re kind of slim on those. Well, there are a couple, but so I think about kids here in Vermont and, you know, and white foster families wanting to do exactly what you’re saying, but at the same time, if the child of color is raised in this kind of hyper white environment, what does that mean? What does that look like in environments like Vermont, where the child’s cultural exposure, their cultural identity either hasn’t developed yet, especially if they’re, you know, began fostering as a young child or there just aren’t there aren’t a lot of opportunities.

Ken Hardy (12:54):

You see, I, I think the dust of burdon that one has that a white family has to take on and fostering a child of color because, you know, when we talked previously about racial trauma, you know, I remember highlighting one particular wound, which I described as devaluation, but another has to do with a phenomenon. I refer to so psychological homelessness and psychological homelessness is a sort of existential search for an elusive something else. And so I think when you have and I’ve had folks like this in workshops, when you have a child of color, who’s raised by a white family in a predominantly white area and has not had adequate exposure to his race of the culture, underpinning his race of origin, that what it essentially does is it puts that child in a position where he or she has to deal for the rest of their lives with a kind of psychological homelessness where they vacillate between two experiences, never feeling comfortably embraced by either so that when they’re around white people, that they feel like a person of color in a sea of white faces.

Ken Hardy (14:14):

And when they’re around people of color, they feel like a white person and they see a faces of people of color. And so there’s no place where that person feels like they solidly belong. And so I do think it’s incumbent upon parents to make sure that early on that the child has experiences where that during a position to relate and adopt and incorporate some aspects of their race of origin, because it doesn’t matter how white of life a white family provides a child of color. The world is going to see that child of color as a person of color. And the cruelty is that, and that many people of color will see that person as a white person and treat him or her accordingly. And so even if it means traveling outside of one area to make sure that happens or doing it vicariously through making sure that you’re watching videos and movies and reading books and so forth. I just think it’s absolutely critical that the parents provide that child with some exposure to the group, which you identify he or she identifies racially. I think it’s actually cruel to deny that.

Tabitha Moore (15:34):

And so then it becomes uncommon both on the foster family, but I would also say I’m a child welfare system. So here in Vermont FSD that DCF that they, they need to help families to be able to do that. Because if we’re going to allow people to foster, you know, not just middle-class families to foster, or you have a kinship placement that it is incumbent upon the system who is taking that child from their family of origin to provide resources so that foster families can do that with children,

Ken Hardy (16:08):

I think it’s crucial.

Tabitha Moore (16:10):

And so then it’s, you know, it’s the entire system that becomes responsible for ensuring that those kids of color have access to resources, supports activities, celebrations that reflect that identity that maybe they’ve never had before. I really liked that.

Ken Hardy (16:26):

Absolutely. And I just want to say one thing very quickly. And this comes back to the question you asked very previously. And I think, again, it’s a place where sort of whiteness infiltrates the system, because if the, because of the prevailing notion is that, that one of the best things that can happen for a poor person of color child of color is to be a fostered or adopted by a white family and be exposed to white values. And I think that’s the misnomer. And I think that notion is one of the reasons why I don’t think that the type of effort is needed to connect, you know, kids of color with community college ever made, because the notion is that, well, you know, just this experience here will make them better in the world. I mean, it’s, it’s kinda like someone told me once that the black people in this country were better off even with slavery, because if we weren’t adopted by this country, we’d be stuck in Africa. And so it’s that, that, that ideology is a white dominated ideology that is problematic. And I see lots of white families who foster children of color operate from that same idea.

Tabitha Moore (17:46):

It’s like that Sally Struthers saves the world, white savior kind of thing happening that yeah. That whiteness is right. Okay. Yes. Yes. so as foster families prepare to support the kids, you know, so we talked about what they need to do once the kids are there. How can families prepare themselves white families?

Ken Hardy (18:09):

Well, I think from the most rudimentary to you probably wouldn’t be surprised, but most people surprised at how many questions I get and how often it comes up in therapy with foster families about things like how do you comb and manage black hair, for example. So I think just the real practical things that, you know, just, and again, I think there’s a broader systemic systems responses as well. I mean, you know, if you can’t comb your child’s hair and, and you don’t that it’s foreign to you that has broad sweeping implications for relationship, because I think if you’re able to do it, what a wonderful bonding experience potentially. So I just think I think there are a number of pragmatic issues that are just, I think, are necessary for preparation. But then I also think it’s about being prepared to stretch beyond one’s temple of familiar in one’s comfort zone.

Ken Hardy (19:10):

Because as I was saying before that if there’s a family that has a black male child, and the idea is to drop him off at a local barbershop and there may or may not be black and brown barbershops in Vermont, right. And great numbers. But, but still, I think the importance of walking out in public with a child of color, and if you’ve lived before that, your life as a white person, you’re not accustomed to being stared at or whispers or point or, you know, the pointing that the kinds of things that go on that can be very disruptive to do the kind of work that one can have oneself regulated. When one is approached about whether you’re the child’s nanny or somebody else’s child. I mean, like all these little issues that come up around race that, like I said, any one of them is not problematic in and of itself, but when you’re being barraged by these, these kinds of experiences, and you’ve never had to deal with them before, I think it does require some emotional, psychological preparation.

Tabitha Moore (20:14):

This is like buckle up and find some supports because you’re going to need it.

Ken Hardy (20:17):

Absolutely. And I think that also it making a concerted effort to enhance one’s awareness, because I think there’s a whole world out there that white people don’t necessarily are necessarily privy to and don’t have to participate in because they don’t have to. But once you, once you foster, once you’re taking a child of color, then you have to discover BET, or you have to, you know, that that there are movies out there and, and literature that, that you need to be exposed to. And I think all those things are important. I think they required, you know, parents to just, the preparation is much more extensive than just, you know, creating a bedroom for a child.

Tabitha Moore (21:01):

So I want to shift our attention just a little bit to something that happens in child welfare all the time, right. Workers have to go out and they have to do safety assessments. Which you do, you know, when you get a report and you’re called out to a house here in Vermont, the second question on the safety assessment is we call it the cultural context boxes. Number two. And in this box, folks are supposed to be asking culturally relevant information about the family. And so, as I was thinking back to a previous episode where we we’re talking about the, how critical it is that we ask what identity and specifically race one of the things that we are struggling with as a state is how do we do this when we are just meeting someone and we’re going into someone’s home for the first time. And, you know, they’re, they’re thinking, you know, is this person going to take my child away? So, so my question to you is what advice do you have for workers about engaging families and conversation about culture. Specifically about identity, especially if it’s something that they’re expected to do within the first 30 minutes of meeting them during a safety assessment.

Ken Hardy (22:06):

Well, I mean, as the outsider, I think there’s something problematic with the policy. I mean, like I talked in a previous session about that, what I just did a nefarious piece. And if you look at this through a racial lens, people of color are really a traumatized, terrorized, target people. And we have to hold that reality in front of us. I mean, that, that is true for this country. I mean, as a country, we have a very complicated relationship with indigenous people. One that has been based on terror and targeting and trauma, you have people of African descent who have been enslaved and had a very complicated, tumultuous relationship with white people. The Japanese in camps, you know, the Chinese exclusion act and so you have, it’s about a hostile relationship where white people have not been trustworthy as a collective and not only not trustworthy, but also have been assaulted and behavior.

Ken Hardy (23:03):

And so to think that, that you just create a policy that you’ll walk into these families, and within 30 minutes ask the most intimate questions, questions that none of us on the worker side of it would be too comfortable asking without a history like that, I think is utterly preposterous. It doesn’t make sense to me. And this is so I’m so glad you asked the question because it is a classic concrete example of what I would point to as a policy that’s well-intended, but it’s probably, and I’m being generous, racially biased that the policy is that the, that the cultivation and articulation and the implementation of that policy is not informed by what clients need it’s based on what some bureaucrats decide it should happen. Right? And so when I talk about policies, I mean, this is a classic example that may be we know that the joining process cross racially doesn’t go as smoothly as it does when you have a worker and a family that’s of the same racial background. And so to have one policy that you apply across the board, uniformally as if the experiences of all the families are the same, I think is really problematic.

Tabitha Moore (24:22):

You can’t see, but I’m dancing in my chair because I’ve been saying this, that same thing. I’m like, this is the wrong question to be asking at the wrong time, we need to be talking about these things. But I think, you know, you’re kind of hitting on this idea that it’s, it’s how, and when we ask that’s about the need of the family versus the need of the system.

Ken Hardy (24:41):

Right. And you, and you, and you infuse the word a minute ago, which I really appreciate it. It actually gave me a little bit chill up on, you said, it’s like humanizing a family. You said that earlier. And that is precisely right. Because when you are, when you are stigmatized and you value, you are dehumanized. And so what happens if you go into a family and within 30 minutes, you’re asking these types of questions for the dehumanization. It’s like, I, I see you as an object that may not be the intent, but that is the consequence of it. And so I think the work has to be relationship centered. I need to cultivate a relationship with you where I respect, uplift and acknowledge your humanity. And I see the worth in you. And when that happens, there’s probably no question. That’s too sensitive to ask at that point. Yeah. Because you, it’s, you’re asking within the context of a relationship, but the cultivation of that relationship requires a attention to process. And what’s driving the need to ask this question within 30 minutes of a visit is product.

Tabitha Moore (25:47):

Right. Well, and I, you know, I say 30 minutes, but it’s within that first visit in which the worker is doing the safety assessment. I’m worried that it decreases safety for everyone in the room.

Ken Hardy (25:56):


Tabitha Moore (25:57):

When we’re talking about, you know, like, are you going to take my children away? And then you asked me about my race. It’s, it’s kind of a setup for everyone. And it’s, empathetical to being really racially responsive. So thank you for affirming that for me. And, and for, you know, for our families that if people are asking you that, and they don’t have the they haven’t developed the trust in the relationship with you, that it can feel more like an assault or a potential threat than something that’s actually helpful. Yeah,

Ken Hardy (26:26):

I think it’s, yeah. No, I just think it’s one thing. If I’m white going into a white family and you see in me, you see yourself in me and you have reasons to believe that I have your best interests at heart. And I think that, I think I can ask that question within a first visit, but when that’s, that those are not the dynamics of a cross-racial relationship.

Tabitha Moore (26:44):

Right. Especially if the one with the situational power is also one with the structural power. So does this say the white person and then as a person of color? Right. So this has been really amazing, super helpful in terms of, you know, what we need to consider, what caveats and considerations for families of color. And then for white parents and white foster parents. And I really appreciate your input there on that last piece around workers asking about race, because it is something that we want them to do, and we want to make sure they have a proper relationship before they do. So. is there anything else that you can think of in terms of engaging with families, parents specifically that you want to make sure that our audience hears about today?

Ken Hardy (27:25):

The landscape here? I, I do. I, you know, I, I appreciate families who are doing this work, and I just think that as I said, a previous notion, I just think learning as much as you can know about the experience of people, of color and children of color, I think is helpful.

Tabitha Moore (27:44):

Well for our listeners, if you’ve heard Ken and I saying, we said, per four previous session, please feel free to go back and listen to our other two conversations together. As we feel that these three topics together, give you a little more of a dimensional, look, a little bit of flavor on the food in terms of understanding of race and racism in child welfare here Vermont, can I can’t thank you enough for all that you do in the world, but that you’ve done for us here in Vermont and on this podcast series with me. So thank you. Thank you. For being you.

Ken Hardy (28:18):

It’s been a real pleasure to work with you and to do this, I thank you so much for having me.

Tabitha Moore (28:22):

No problem. All right. Take care of everybody. Get out there and start talking about race. Hey everyone, thank you for hopping over to this extended segments of our racial justice learning series podcast. I’m Tabitha. You were just listening to Ken and I hopefully talking about the ins and outs of racial awareness and racial justice and child welfare. I’m joined for this episode by Cassie Gillespie, a very familiar face for most of you in Vermont. And we’re here to dive a little bit more deeply into some of the topics that Ken and I didn’t have a lot of time to get into, but are really important to understand.

Cassie Gillespie (29:03):

Yeah. Thank you so much for making time to do this, Tabitha. Let’s get to the listeners up a little bit as to how we got exactly here.

Tabitha Moore (29:10):

Good idea.

Cassie Gillespie (29:11):

Perfect. So for listeners out there the way these kind of production processes work is that we record a podcast and then there’s some rough cuts and you listen to them and there’s some editing done. And then we, you know, put out our snazzy product in this case, as I was listening to the rough cuts, that Tabitha and Ken made for usI was filled with so many questions that I wanted to follow up about. So I did, so I called you, right?

Tabitha Moore (29:35):

You did, you called me.

Cassie Gillespie (29:36):

And asked her a bunch of questions and we had some great conversations and then decided maybe we should have them in here in the studio. So other people could listen to because they might have the same questions.

Tabitha Moore (29:46):

Yeah. It’s such a complex topic. It’s really difficult for people, especially white folks who’ve never really come into contact with, or had to think about race or racism in their lives, let alone in their work. So we wanted to go a little bit deeper so that folks could have a little bit more dimension to what they heard in the podcast with Ken and I.

Cassie Gillespie (30:05):

You know, as I was listening, there were so many questions I was thinking of, but there’s a kind of particular or specific section of question that I want to pitch to you. And then we can dialogue a little bit about it, which is specific to talking to families about race and cultural identity. You know, you and Ken talked about that a couple of different ways in the podcast series. So talking about demographic data, talking about the cultural context box on the safety assessment, this is probably a good place to do a little update there, which is to say that in the new SDM manual rollout, which is coming soon, fall of 2021 a change that’s been in the works for a little bit, but we want to make sure we talk about here because it’s really relevant is this idea that the cultural context box has actually been moved to all tools, but it’s a non mandatory field.

Cassie Gillespie (30:55):

And so what that means is you don’t have to fill it out. So if you’ve assessed that it’s not safe or it’s not the time you can advance the tool without filling it out, but it is on every tool as a prompt, as a reminder, as a place to hopefully support the workforce to lean into these conversations. And I guess Tabitha, the question I have for you, right. And Ken, but here I have you, is this idea of so let’s say I’ll just use my own practice as an example, as someone who didn’t develop a racial lens till much later in life and is still new in my own journey about thinking about race at work and the power and my positional authority in relation to race and cultural identities, how am I going to accurately assess, you know, whether I’m prompted to have a conversation because it’s an SDM tool or I need to collect demographic data, or I’m asking about family for family finds or network building what are the things I should be thinking about to assess when it’s safe to have that conversation and how to have that conversation?

Tabitha Moore (31:57):

Well I think before you can even answer that question, it’s important to recognize the context in foundations, we teach about understanding your surroundings and understanding the environment in which we’re walking into. So before you can even figure out momentary safety, it’s a matter of understanding, both the cultural context and the, and the power dynamic that’s happening. You’re in a system that is white centric. That was you know, we know that there’s disproportionality, you know, Ken and I already went over that. So when you’re working in a system that has never asked you to talk about race, it’s incredibly difficult to bring it up. And when you’re in a system that disproportionately harms people of color, you need to take that context into consideration for overall safety before you can even get to timing to when the words come out, you know, and you and I have talked about this, it’s kind of like we’re trying to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Tabitha Moore (32:53):

We’re not even talking about actual systemic change. We’ve slapped a box on a piece of paper for people who’ve never really had a consideration or thought about this this concept of, of race and racism and how it impacts systems and, and families. And then, you know, all of the nuance there. So what we’ve done is essentially slap a bandaid on an arm that’s been cut off, and that is a difficult ask. And so we know though that if we don’t try to do something, the bleeding’s going to continue. So the first thing that anybody needs to do is situate themselves in that context, before they go in and talk with a family to think about where they’re, you know, what’s going on, we’ll sharpen their lens and their ability to judge the timing. That being said, Ken was very clear in his conversation that if you haven’t built the social capital, you don’t have the right to ask.

Tabitha Moore (33:48):

And so, you know, we have the individual, which is the worker that’s going into, that’s trying to get information. That’s trying to be thoughtful trying to support and engage families and culturally relevant ways at the same time is the system even asking the larger question. I would contend that if it’s not, and it’s not changing the ways that systems see families and work with families across culture, that it’s perpetuating harm. And so then, you know, that bandaid that the worker is using is getting smaller and smaller and smaller until it’s down to a little butterfly bandaid or one of those ones you put on when you cut yourself shaving. So I don’t, I don’t want to be a Debbie downer. So, but it, you know, we’re talking about racism and it’s not a fun topic, even though we can laugh sometimes. So when it comes to, how do you determine safety in the moment, you’ve got to take that into consideration, and then you have to look at your relationship with the folks.

Tabitha Moore (34:44):

You have to build your your preamble, your speech. And that’s not to say that you develop, you know, one cookie cutter speech, but you have to know where you are in relationship to these topics. And you have to know how to explain to a family, a white family, probably more than a family of color is not going to understand why you’re asking about race. And while you’re talking about that, that’s been true in my experience. Yeah. Because white people don’t ever have to think about it. We think about it all the time. We’re not the ones who need racial justice training. It’s white people that need it. So I would recommend that before you even get to that space where you’re trying to judge judge timing, develop that speech. So you have that ready, you know how to handle potential questions, concerns, anger that might come up.

Tabitha Moore (35:31):

And so once you are prepared in that, and you think that you have enough, and remember, I’m just thinking about like even the foundational level, right? When people come out of foundations. They’re not, you know, perfect. And I’ll, you know, so this is foundational level preparation around these things. And then, you know what you’re gonna say, you know, the way that you’re going to proceed, and now you have to have the relationship there. And there’s so many questions that child welfare workers ask that are incredibly invasive and painful and harmful and trauma inducing. And this is another one, particularly for people of color for white folks that can feel traumatizing if they’ve never thought about it and they might feel defensive or like you’re going to be judging whether or not they’re racially aware as a matter of their ability to take care of children, which is, you know, not what you’re there to do.

Tabitha Moore (36:28):

So in order to judge whether or not your relationship is at a place where you can do that you got to think about, you know, has the family ever talked about race or racism? Many families of color have experienced it and may willingly bring it up. They may say things to you. Like, you know, you’re only here because I’m black, right. Which can be true. There was just a case the other day. I don’t know if you saw this, but it was a high school in Tennessee. There were two tic toks by cheerleaders. Interestingly enough, did, did you see this? I think I posted it with a rant on Facebook because the high school administration and the cheerleading coach kicked off the young black girl who performed the same exact dance as her white peer, both of them are 15 years old.

Tabitha Moore (37:17):

I mean, it was incredible and called DCF to get involved with the black family because this young girl had made this tic tok and they sexualized her. The adults in the world sexualized the young black girl, while not doing the same or doling out consequences, which we could talk about that another day for the young white girl. That’s a whole other serious call me back for that one.

Cassie Gillespie (37:38):

Will do.

Tabitha Moore (37:39):

And so there’s this way in which our reality is framed by the fact that we are disproportionately contacted and you can use that as an entryway to, to acknowledge and affirm that reality.

Cassie Gillespie (37:51):

I think part of what I’m, what’s coming up for me when I’m listening to you is this idea that I think it was in the second podcast, you know, you and Ken were talking about this idea that if you’re the worker and the relationship between the worker and the family, or in the relationship between the supervisor and the worker if you have positional authority, you need to be the broker of permission to talk about race.

Tabitha Moore (38:12):

That’s right.

New Speaker (38:13):

Right? And then this tension point between, but if you don’t have the relationship, if, if the safety isn’t present, if trust isn’t built, if this system isn’t changing, that it causes harm and that tension point, you know, a word I’m just going to name it. A worry I have is that folks who are early on in their practice will take that as an off-ramp. They’re like, well, that’s really hard. I’m just not going to talk about it. Cause I can’t ensure that it’s safe or, you know,

Tabitha Moore (38:40):

Safety is always used against us. It’s the officer field fearless feared for their lives. The white lady in the park feared for her safety. Safety is always weaponized against people in marginalized positions. And so the self of the practitioner becomes a really important part of this and self-exploration and understanding, you know, we, we do the cultural iceberg in foundations as a way for people to start to understand dimensions of self and exploring their boundaries and their comfort. I would contend that that needs to continue as a part of regular training is understanding what makes you afraid and where does that come from? And yeah, people, it’s, it’s a hard thing to talk about. And white folks don’t like to talk about race or racism, period. I mean, after Sandy Hook, after Florida Marjorie Douglas High School, nobody had a problem scrutinizing school safety and scrutinizing the way that administrative procedures happen and the people in those positions and security guards, nobody had a problem creating safety around that, but, when it comes to creating racial safety, despite the overwhelming evidence that people of color are more likely to be harmed and have been killed we still hesitate to look at our systems.

Tabitha Moore (39:58):

We still hesitate to ask the questions that we know are necessary. The airlines have no problem asking you, if you have anything on you, if you know you have anything in your shoes, but we won’t ask about race. And that’s because our country has that, you know incredibly painful history. So what I would encourage workers to do is when you get to that place, oh, it’s not safer to being the ask. What’s not safe? Are you not feeling safe because it’s going to be uncomfortable for you?

Cassie Gillespie (40:26):

Yeah. That comfort versus safety comes up alot.

Tabitha Moore (40:29):

Are you not safe because you fear how they’re going to react to you and then to work that through, because hopefully your supervisor has been doing and thinking about the same things and to ask, you know to create those situations in supervision or, you know, at staff meeting where you can imagine those top 10 or 11 push backs that you’re going to get and then practice doing them ahead of time. And to really consider is your safety at risk. And then is the safety of the person at risk, which is, you know vital.

Cassie Gillespie (41:02):

That should actually be the deciding variable now. And then your safety is paramount to you, but

Tabitha Moore (41:07):

Like, like, oh, I don’t want to inflict more trauma by asking, well, guess what if you’re white and the people are not white, they’re already thinking about race. You’re just not naming it. And as the person with authority, it is incumbent upon you to do so in ways that are responsive and thoughtful and to own trauma that you may cause. It’s like, I think about it like a surgeon who doesn’t deliver enough anesthesia or who accidentally, you know, hurts you in the process and them not apologizing. That would be ridiculous if they didn’t say, oh, I’m sorry, that hurt you. People often are like, well, I, I just, I didn’t mean to, I have to ask these questions.

Cassie Gillespie (41:47):

Right? So back to their intent instead of the impact.

Tabitha Moore (41:49):

It’s the defensiveness. So thinking about those things becomes a part of preparing, it’s so much more preparing than it is actually delivering self-reflection awareness of harm to other cultural humility, ability to apologize become a part of when is this, the right time? It’s like playing double Dutch with about eight ropes. That’s kind of how I think about it.

Cassie Gillespie (42:12):

Right. Because it feels that way to lots of people,

Tabitha Moore (42:14):

Right. And some people are like, people only got eight had with that. Right? Because you’re in a, you know, you’re in a tough situation, you know, you already know you’ve already listened to all the podcasts, so,

Cassie Gillespie (42:24):

Well, you’re talking to me, but there’s other people listening. We hope!

Cassie Gillespie (42:29):

If it was just us, this is silly having this conversation again.

Tabitha Moore (42:32):

Well, you know, it’s like, you’re doing double Dutch with eight ropes, right. You’ve got like you’re in there to assess danger, but whose definition of danger are you even assessing?

Cassie Gillespie (42:43):

I mean, I guess I have this question about you know, I’ll speak from my own practice, but I would guess this is true for others is I can’t tell you how many times now looking back, I opted to do something or not do something based on air quotes. My assessment of safety. When I think I was conflating my sense of comfort or competence.

Tabitha Moore (43:03):

Right. And I think that, that those are critical distinctions. So then it becomes necessary to have conversations in which you detail what safety is or is not. We all have different tolerances for people when they yell, when they name, call. Right. And so that’s where that cultural iceberg becomes really important. How do you, how do you understand anger? How do you understand rage? How do you understand fear and its manifestations? How comfortable are you with these things coming back at you?

Cassie Gillespie (43:35):

Yeah. And I think, you know, given the interplay of secondary traumatic stress and trauma exposure response, this becomes, you know, exponentially more complicated, right? Because sometimes there is real harm that workers sustain. I mean, lots of times. And so can I ask you this and push back if you’re trying to go somewhere else with this, but help me think through, or help listeners think through how to think about the tension point between your own safety, right. But, and the readiness or the safety of the family to have this conversation. Because something I may not be good at, but I’m at least familiar with is assessing how dangerous is the situation to me. I’ve had, you know, how many training hours about how dangerous is this to the child. Something I know virtually nothing about, or I’m just like an infancy and learning about is how dangerous is this conversation in terms of creating racialized trauma for the family I’m having it with.

Tabitha Moore (44:30):

Yeah. It’s going to happen. Just by virtue of you already being involved with the family, there’s already racial trauma and fear. And so it, you know, you can get ahead of it by saying things like, look, I know I’m going to mess this up. I know that this is painful and that the system does XYZ. You know, that prep becomes really important. And then saying, I’d like to talk about race and how it’s manifesting in your life and in your experiences, not just so I can support you around it, but so that we can understand the resources, the richness.

Tabitha Moore (45:06):

The power that, that you have in everything that you are as a racialized being. Saying that and asking permission to go there for people of color becomes really critical. I’d like to distinguish talking with families of color from talking with white families, because the likelihood of white families having racialized trauma in a system that reflects who they are as racialized beings is not what it is for, for people of color. Now, again, they could still be afraid and you still need to have a level of care, but as a completely different conversation. And I guess here’s where I want to take it one step further down the wormhole, because we’ve gotten this question from staff before. This has said, well, I’m already congratulating myself on my Greek question before I ask it, but I’m okay. Especially in Vermont, I’m sure this is true everywhere. Right?

Cassie Gillespie (45:57):

But where we have such a prevalence of white people and such a low level of practice, I guess, around asking around racial identity. A lot of times there’s just an assumption that someone who phenotypically looks white is white and we don’t ask. Right. but if we’re having this whole conversation about the need to ask families and then respond to those conversations in different ways, it almost implies that we would know in advance, who’s a family of color and who’s not, and that we’ve crafted and prep for those conversations differently. See what I’m saying?

Tabitha Moore (46:29):

So I have a couple of, of responses to your questions. I mean, and the first one is that you know, we should be prepping all the time, you know, in, in the case of school shootings, for example, we have no problem at all. Having kids practice, fire drills or, or shooter drills, active shooter drills in schools. And there’s no reason that DCF can’t be having practice every month about the epidemic of racism. There’s no reason that they shouldn’t be pulling a question out of a hat and saying, okay, how are you going to practice having this particular conversation about race and then working together around that. To answer your actual question, the one that, that you intended to ask you know, I think what you’re talking about as the tension between being racially responsive and not wanting to make assumptions, and that’s one that we often find ourselves in, and in order to be racially responsive, you have to be taking into consideration our larger community context, which we’ve talked a little bit about that families, community context and all of their experience.

Tabitha Moore (47:45):

Maybe you’re getting a whole file of information on them that gives you context about who they are. And I know that different workers have different ways of, of storing or using that information when they, they, if it’s a new worker meeting a family, or you have a, you know, a report that’s coming in, I would, I would say that if you are going to be racially responsive, and if you want to be able to talk about race with families, that you need to develop a script that is thoughtful about how race impacts everyone. And then we can’t escape the reality that some of us have darker skin color. And we know that that’s that if you are not white, you’re not white looking, then there’s a strong likelihood that you are having some, some pretty significant experiences with racial trauma. And so to be racially, racially responsive, or racially thoughtful, pretending that doesn’t exist so that you don’t make an assumption is less helpful than saying, Hey, let’s, you know, let’s, let’s talk about race.

Tabitha Moore (48:55):

I can, you know, as somebody who doesn’t look white, there’s a likelihood that you’re having experiences that I’m not aware of, and that I need to be thoughtful and mindful of that as well as being thoughtful and mindful about you know, your culture and, you know, how race plays a role in your life and parts of that. You’ll, you’ll adapt to conversations with people who eventually identify as white. Obviously, you know, again, the culture whiteness, how has it shaped your life? That will become a part of your conversation too, but going into it. Yeah. You don’t know necessarily what, you know, people’s identities may be. But being racially responsive requires us to wade into that territory and be willing to be wrong, but also try to be sensitive and thoughtful.

Cassie Gillespie (49:51):

I mean, I think the thing that’s really interesting here too, is universally, well, I think universally people in child protection, they’re talking to families and clients and caregivers about identity in all kinds of interesting ways. And then really falling short here when we get to like race and ethnicity. And for a lot of reasons you talked about, right? Like I mean we could list them all, but that’s a long list.

Tabitha Moore (50:18):

Well, right. And in Vermont you have a 94.7% chance of guessing, right. As a child welfare worker, that’s a really high odd and, and you I think when it comes down to is, is developing a deep sense of commitment and understanding to why it’s important to talk about race and the racialization of, you know, of people in order to develop a, process for determining safety, a process for understanding the timing of when you should be having these conversations and then the language, but it, you’ve got to start with that centering around. Why is this important before you can jump into any of those other

Cassie Gillespie (51:00):

It’s the feeling and the being before the doing? Yeah, that’s a Ken Hardy. Okay. So I want to summarize here.

Tabitha Moore (51:08):

Good luck.

Cassie Gillespie (51:09):

I think I can. So when we’re thinking about how to have these conversations, you know, let me take a stab and then you, you tell me if I’ve gotten this right. That the paramount thing is to start internally, right? So that you’re not just starting from a place of action. You’re not just looking for a technical solution to an adaptive problem. You’re not just checking a box because you can’t, that won’t be the right box and it won’t be done. But you’re starting from a place of, within yourself. And, and if you’re white decentering your whiteness in this whole process from there thinking about the importance of leaning into the conversation and not assuming, and then this was the big one.

Cassie Gillespie (51:46):

I heard prep, prep, prep, prep, prep, right? And then practice, and then prep some more. If you’re a supervisor that prep and that practice might look like how you support your staff to have these conversations. If you’re a frontline worker it’s what’s the actual language you’re gonna use to have these conversations. Maybe some group think around places you think you might get caught up. And then being sensitive to the overall context of what else is happening in the system. So that you’re not over here moving something forward while there’s all this other harm unaddressed happening over here. Does that feel like I’m capturing some of it?

Tabitha Moore (52:18):

Yeah, no, I think you did a really good job, but I would change the order that the first thing you need to do, the first thing you need to do is self-awareness in this larger context.

Cassie Gillespie (52:28):

Got me there.

Tabitha Moore (52:28):

That’s got to come first because you can’t, everything else, you know, is based on the fact that you have this larger harm being created, the ship is sinking. So we can’t really, you know, focus on you know, what we’re going to do in the water when we haven’t even figured out the exit plan. Yeah. or how to right the ship. So yeah, that would be my first thing. And then, yeah, I think you did a great job summarizing. I think, you know, I I’ve made it clear, you know, when I was at CWTP my feelings about the cultural context box, again, I think it’s a tiny attempt to mitigate the harm.

Cassie Gillespie (53:09):

The larger harm.

Tabitha Moore (53:10):

But it is not an adequate solution or even a, it’s not even a transformative shift in practice. It’s not a transformative shift, you know, it’s, it’s, again, it’s technical or adaptive. It’s a technical solution to a systemic racism problem.

Cassie Gillespie (53:29):

Yeah. I mean, I think, you know, and feel free to argue with me here in it. I know you will.

Tabitha Moore (53:34):

Let me put on my glasses.

Cassie Gillespie (53:37):

To me, the transformative shift is, is that while we’re working on larger organizational change, and while we’re scaling up and addressing various parts of the system, that we’re also committed to scaling up everybody on how to have these conversations. And so whether it’s for the STM assessment or your demographics, or your family, or your case plan, you know, the actual technical place for it, it doesn’t matter to me. It’s what needs to, you know, it’s this conversation like what people need to have to be able to have the conversation.

Tabitha Moore (54:06):

And we want to grow from a butterfly bandage to, you know, full suture or whatever.

Cassie Gillespie (54:12):

I’m trying to think of what a big bandage is. An ACE bandage.

Tabitha Moore (54:15):

Some gauze yes. And this will not be successful without a couple of things. One right. Is the attention to the relationship and permission. And then two is the support to the worker and making sure that when they come back from the field or before they go in their field, that they have adequate practice opportunity and the tools that they need now, again, is that any reason not to go? Nope. Right. You still gotta go out there and you still got to do your best, and you still have to ask the question, even if you’re scared or uncomfortable.

Cassie Gillespie (54:51):

All right. Well, I mean, I think that you summed it up there. Well, I can’t thank you enough for coming in today. It’s been a real pleasure and thanks for sharing some of your wisdom with us.

Tabitha Moore (55:00):

Thank you for having me and for the courage to continue down this path.

Cassie Gillespie (55:05):

Awesome. Bye-bye

Tabitha Moore (55:06):


Cassie Gillespie (55:09):

Thank you for listening. Welcome to the Field is produced by the Vermont Child Welfare Training Partnership and the State of Vermont. Our music is composed and performed by local band Brick Drop, and our sound production and engineering has been brought to you by Esmond Communications and Egan Media Productions. For welcome to the field, I’m Cassie Gillespie, and we’ll see you next time.

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