Department of Human Services workers say addressing racial disparities in Iowa’s child welfare system will involve a wide range of strategies. New DHS Director Gene Gessow says a disproportionate number of black children are being placed in out-of-home care. He calls it a statewide problem that he hopes to correct over the next decade.

Meanwhile, DHS employees say they’re working to better understand the needs of the kids and families they’re serving. DHS social worker Abdul Muhammad is based in Polk County. "One of the things that we’re doing differently is we are beginning to respect people’s cultural differences," Muhammad said. "When we approach a family, we take our services that we normally offer to a family and individual that to meet that family’s needs. We ask what we can do for them, what they need from us and really develop a partnership."

The agency is also working to recruit more African American foster homes. Last week, the DHS unveiled a new campaign that Gessow says is designed to ensure that children’s treatment doesn’t depend on their race or ethnicity. The effort includes a website: