Collaborative work group meeting at a table with laptops.

Institutional Analysis

Unearthing institutional racism and other biases

What We Work For

We work to eliminate institutional racism and other biases, in partnership with the systems themselves.

Child welfare systems across the country are striving to keep children safe and to help them live with a loving, permanent family (their own whenever possible). These public systems are judged by—and accountable to—the federal government, state legislatures, communities, and frequently lawsuits and consent decrees. There are myriad reasons why these systems don’t meet the needs of those they serve as often as they should but failures are often rooted in institutional policies, practices, and biases that inhibit caseworkers from effectively assisting children and families.

How We Do It

We partner with local public systems and community stakeholders to use a structured qualitative methodology to identify how institutions of child welfare or juvenile justice could work better for families, with a particular focus on families of color.

Investigative teams apply qualitative tools and analysis to examine institutional features that influence how cases are processed—and thus may contribute to racial and ethnic disproportionality and disparity or inequities related to sexual orientation and gender identity. The Institutional Analysis (IA) can help assess current concepts, theories, practices, policies, procedures, and initiatives and serve as an organizing tool to improve coordination and working relationships and mobilize joint action among intervening agencies and the communities they serve. The IA can also be used to assess the environment in which a new equity centered reform or initiative is being launched—identifying both opportunities and challenges.

When implicit biases are brought to the surface and eliminated through careful, collaborative work, public systems can adjust structural and institutional policies and practices to better support the communities they serve.

Institutional Analysis

CSSP and Ellen Pence of Praxis International, Inc. developed the Institutional Analysis (IA) to uncover problematic policies and practices that define and constrain child welfare systems, with a focus on contributors to racial disparities in child welfare services and outcomes. The IA is a diagnostic process to reveal and address the disconnect between what a child or youth and their family need to be safe, and how institutions are organized to act.

The IA team, led by local and national experts, asks questions from the standpoint of children, youth, parents, and caregivers involved with child welfare systems. The analysis is intended to help child welfare systems, their institutional and community partners, external community groups, and advocacy organizations work toward the common goals of improving safety, permanency, and well-being outcomes. We have also applied the IA to examining the experiences of LGBTQ+ and gender expansive youth in child welfare and youth of color involved with the juvenile justice system.

The IA examines institutional policies and practices and the logic, thinking, and assumptions that support them. By asking how something comes about, rather than who is doing it, the analysis reveals systemic problems and produces recommendations for more permanent and effective change.

While the process of Institutional Analysis (IA) is an evolutionary one and outcomes are often slow to surface, we have seen success in a number of jurisdictions including:

Fairfax County, Virginia. In 2012, a multi-year institutional analysis process explored the disproportionate contact of African American and Hispanic youth with Fairfax, Virginia’s juvenile justice system. 

Fresno, California. The IA examined policies, practices, attitudes, and beliefs that contributed to African American children experiencing low reunification rates with their parents and insufficient attention to their developmental needs while in long-term foster care.

Los Angeles, California. The IA explored the experiences of African American children and youth who do not reunify with their parents or find alternate, timely permanency in three county offices (Pomona, Torrance, and Wateridge). The IA identified county wide and office specific policies and practices that contribute to these poor outcomes.

Santa Clara and Fresno, California. In the 2015, IAs in two separate counties examined issues for Latino children, youth and families based on challenges unique to each county. The IAs also examined how these two counties can be more supportive LGBTQ+ and gender expansive youth and ensure that out-of-home placements are safe and affirming.