October 31, 2018 Practice Points

Five Ways to Address Implicit Bias Within Our Systems

By Cathy Krebs

Systems that work with children often contain implicit biases that can impact our child clients. Though it can feel overwhelming to confront bias within a large system, here are five ways to help you. Before you begin, make sure that you’ve considered addressing your own unintentional implicit bias:

  1. Look at the data in your jurisdiction to determine whether there are disparities and disparate outcomes based on race within your child welfare, juvenile justice, and/or educational systems. It can be helpful to begin by looking at whether there are entities in your community that collect this data—for example, is there a disproportionality manager within your child welfare agency? There are also federal and national entities that collect data—for example, the U.S. Department of Education, the Child Welfare Information Gateway, and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
  2. Convene meetings and trainings in your jurisdiction to share the data and information on disparity and disproportionality within your systems so that you can begin a conversation on the best ways to address the issue.
  3. Ensure that you, as an advocate, are presenting comprehensive information illustrating the individuality of your clients and their families to assist in addressing the implicit bias of decision-makers. It may also help to look at your own caseload and consider whether your advocacy or recommendations change based on the race of the client.
  4. Identify and share resources to address implicit bias with colleagues and decision-makers in your system—for example, this bench card on Addressing Bias in Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare Systems by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges or the Texas Children’s Commission Judicial Workgroup Addressing Disproportionality Bench Card. Some jurisdictions have put together information and trainings that you can utilize—for example a toolkit from the Texas Beyond the Bench: Law, Justice, and Communities Summit or a webinar for Texas judges “The Judiciary, Race Equity and Child Welfare”.
  5. Create space and opportunity for system-involved youth and parents to take leadership roles in your organizations and systems. Having those most affected by these systems involved in advocacy and leadership can assist in confronting and decreasing bias within systems and organizations. For more information on how to partner and work with system involved youth, see our Fall 2018 Newsletter article or The Children’s Law Center’s Youth Empowerment Program.

If you have additional ideas to share, or would like to highlight successful efforts, please contact cathy.krebs@americanbar.org.

Cathy Krebs is the committee director of the Children’s Rights Litigation Committee.


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