Black families being torn apart by unfounded accusations of child sex abuse

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Imagine you're a foster child - neglected by your own family, moved from home to home - until you find that one place, that one family, where you belong. Finally, you're safe, with a foster parent that loves you and takes care of you.

Until you're ripped from that home one morning, all because someone made an unfounded call to the child sexual abuse hotline.

That's what happened to Kimberly Stevens and her three foster children. And a Chicago Reporter investigation reveals it may be happening to many more children and families in Cook County, many of whom are black.

Cook County has an anonymous tip line for child abuse - 1-800-25-ABUSE. But even though black children are only 27 percent of the population, callers were twice as likely to make a call about a black child being sexually abused.

Were the calls valid? Not all of them. Only 20 percent of the time did investigators find evidence of sexual abuse.

Yet even though most of those calls were not valid, each of them means an investigation into a family's life. But when you look at the number of black families that were investigated on unfounded claims, it's more than the combined total of unfounded claims against white, Latino and Asian families.

"It seemed like a conviction without being a conviction," said Kimberly Stevens. "I
thought we were innocent until proven guilty, but it felt guilty."

When those calls did yield some evidence of child sexual abuse, investigators have to decide what to do. But when they were dealing with a black family, the decision was often to take that kid out of their home. And for black children, that was happening at more than twice the rate of Latinos and more than three times the rate of white children.

For more on how child sexual abuse allegations are affecting families in Cook County, read Jeff Kelly Lowenstein's investigation in the latest issue of the Reporter, or download our briefing sheet (pdf) to see what we found. We'll be talking about the investigation and giving away copies of the issue at our drop party at 6 p.m. this Thursday, Nov. 4th.

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