Shock waves spread through Hollywood like wildfire when Will and Jada Pinkett Smith were suddenly under investigation by the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. The cause of concern came after a photo of their fully clothed 13-year-old daughter, Willow—seen lying in bed with shirtless 20-year-old actor and family friend Moises Arias—surfaced on social media. The investigation found that there was zero evidence that Willow was in any way harmed or abused. But there is a lesson here for us all: Instead of getting ensnared in celebrity domestic drama and gossip, we should focus that energy on some of the real crises besetting Black families today, including foster care, sexual abuse and educational disparities.
The nation’s foster care system, like most other institutions in America, reflects the racial dynamics that plague our society. Although Black children comprise only 14 percent of the U.S. population 18 years of age and younger, they make up 27 percent of the children in foster care. And not only are Black youngsters more likely to be reported, investigated and relegated to foster care, but once in the system, they are far more likely to endure longer placements in out-of-home care; to be on the short end of comprehensive services; and they are reunited with their families less often than White children.
In Los Angeles County, where the Smiths live, eight of every 100 children are Black, as are 29 of every 100 in foster care. When African-American youngsters in the county are placed in that system, they are trapped there 50 percent longer than those of other races. More troubling is the fact that Black children are mistreated by family members and die at a higher rate than those of other races. This plague, not the goings-on of one wealthy family, should be ringing our alarms.