Authors: Ramona W. Denby and Carla M. Curtis
: Columbia University Press – 245 pages
Book Review by
: Laxmi Chaandi

Cultural adaptation is the key to effectively achieving the three major child welfare goals in social work when it comes to helping African-American families, the authors of this book write. Those goals are:

  • Protection
  • Permanency
  • Well-Being

Ramona W. Denby and Carla M. Curtis point out that adapting to the specific needs and wants of African Americans is what they call the “mediating construct” in the current welfare system. This system has limitations in meeting their needs. They suggest different “policy and program responses” that will make the system more effective in achieving goals.

They write that the primary objective of this book is “to describe how cultural adaptations can be used in the delivery of child welfare services to African-American children and families. An important feature of the book is the recommendations for policy, practice, and research than can guide intervention with this population.”

African-American children and youths in out-of-the-home situations have a very different environment and experiences than in-home youngsters. Providing care to them entails taking a different approach. This situation “provides the primary rationale” for an alternative approach to the study of child welfare that this book proposes.

To give you an overview of what you will find in this book (as we almost always do) here below are the titles of its eight chapters:

  1. Cultural Adaptation in Effective Child Welfare Practice with African Americans
  2. Child Welfare in Perspective: Historical Factors Affecting African-American Family and Policy Formulation
  3. Child Welfare Policy and the African-American Family
  4. Safety and Protection
  5. Permanence for Children
  6. Child and Parent Well-Being
  7.  Cultural Adaptation and Research
  8. Meeting the Challenges to Bring About Change

Who is this book primarily written for? It has been written for practitioners – mainly social workers. For example, if you are already working in the child welfare systems at the Federal or state government levels, or are involved in a charitable organization that provides services to children, particularly to African Americans including their families, this book is for you.

If you are a student of social work enrolled in a degree or non-degree particularly on the graduate level, this book is for you. This book is also for “grassroots organizers,” policy advocates, researchers and teachers of social work.

This is book is targeted on a very specific segment of the population which makes it unique. It is valuable for this same reason as well. Thirdly, it is a pioneering study and contributes to the knowledge base in social work on African-American families, particularly children, by providing the history, politics, and sociology around this previously little-studied problem in the United States.


Ramona W. Denby is professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Greenspun College of Urban Affairs, School of Social Work.

Carla M. Curtis is associate professor at the Ohio State University College of Social Work.