Applying a Race Equity Lens: A Call to Action for Human Services

APHSA is working to influence policies and practices that address structural bias and inequity, connect our members to resources, organizations, and best practices to apply a race equity lens, and build capacity within public human services to promote social and economic mobility and health and well-being for all races. We work in alignment with state, county, and city human services leaders to access the policy levers that move human services towards building an environment in which one’s race identity has no influence on how one fares in society.

No matter where we come from or what our life experiences have been, we share a common desire to be healthy and live well. Our ability to pursue these goals is lifted up by opportunities available to us; where we live, learn, work, and connect are fundamental to our growth and development. These factors, which we refer to as the social determinants of health and well-being, create the enabling conditions for people to thrive. Across these determinants, national data show that people of color are more likely to face structural barriers within the systems we all rely on to reach our potential. These persistent barriers are a call to action for human services organizations to address the root causes of racial disparities through policy and practice to enhance well-being for all people.

APHSA's Organizational Effectiveness (OE) Team helps agencies develop goals and objectives for advancing racial equity. Through the use of disaggregated data, diagnostic tools, and facilitation, they help leaders examine root cause factors that perpetuate race-based biases hindering equitable progression. As a practice, OE works to develop a healthy internal culture in addition to exploring system level strategies that generate real results. Learn more.

A Look at the Data: Racial Disparities in Social Determinants of Health and Well-Being


Employment — Access to stable and sufficient employment is fundamental to a person’s ability to achieve economic mobility. Yet, across all education levels, people of color on average have lower median wages than White individuals of the same education level (National Equity Atlas). This disparity is exacerbated by the fact that employment rates for Black men fell further and recovered more slowly than did White men’s during the Great Recession (Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality).


Education — Education is a key building block towards a brighter future for children. Yet, disparities in reading achievement between White children and Black and Hispanic children have remained stable for the past 40 years, and in fact grew during the 2000s. Across common metrics of academic achievement from pre-kindergarten through high school, disparities remain and in some cases, have grown (National Assessment of Educational Progress).


Health — From an early age, health outcomes differ along racial lines. The infant mortality rate for Black babies in the U.S. is more than twice that of White (Center for Disease Control). And Black children with asthma are more than twice as likely than White Children to be hospitalized or have an emergency department visit, and four times more likely to die from asthma (American Lung Association). These health disparities persist throughout life; black people have higher death rates than Whites in all age groups less-than 65 years (Center for Disease Control).


Wealth — Accumulation of wealth helps families weather storms and pass opportunities onto their children. While the median net worth for White households is $162,770, it is only $21,360 for Hispanic households and $16,300 for Black households (Peter G. Peterson Foundation). This translates to just 13 cents and 10 cents of net wealth respectively for Hispanic and Black households compared to every dollar of wealth for White households.


Housing — People who live in highly segregated and isolated neighborhoods have lower housing quality, higher concentrated poverty, and less access to jobs, transportation, and education. For some racial minorities, the effects of historical racial biases in the housing market continue to linger. For example, younger Black city residents (born between 1985 and 2000) are just as likely to live in a high-poverty neighborhood as the previous generation (born between 1955 and 1970) (Brookings Institute).

Community and Social Supports

Community and Social Supports — State and local human services agencies play a key role helping provide opportunity for all, yet evidence suggests the potential for structural biases within these systems. For example, compared to Whites, Black parents are more likely to be reported for abuse and neglect of their children and are more likely to have their cases be investigated and substantiated when compared to White parents of similar risk scores (Child Welfare Information Gateway).


Incarceration — Within the criminal justice system, data suggest people of color experience more severe sentencing and higher rates of incarceration. Black men who commit the same crime as White men receive federal prison sentences that are, on average, nearly 20% longer (U.S. Sentencing Commission) and Black individuals are incarcerated in state prisons at an average rate of 5.1 times that of White individuals (Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics).

Understanding the Need for a Race Equity Lens

Applying a race equity lens means that at the core of our work we are actively seeking to illuminate disparate outcomes and paying disciplined attention to race and ethnicity while analyzing problems, looking for solutions and defining success. In our work, this involves actively working to understand the environmental and structural root causes preventing social and economic mobility and health and well-being for all races. Within our national context and point in history, APHSA is committed to be an accountable actor and supportive ally in systematically eliminating racial inequity.

In March 2021, APHSA introduced the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Peer Community which provides a platform for current and future leaders to discuss policy and practice related to advancing racial equity in health and human services at the state, local, and community levels. For more information about this group, please contact Jennifer Kerr, APHSA OE Director.

Well-intentioned efforts to implement race-neutral policies often perpetuate existing systematic discrimination among historically excluded groups. A race equity lens is an essential tool to address structural racism, including both explicit and implicit bias that undermines the well-being of all races. Structural racism is more difficult to locate in institutions because it involves the reinforcing effects of multiple systems and cultural norms, past and present, continually reproducing old and producing new forms of racism (Race Equity Tool, 2016). Yet, some organizations are using innovative approaches to deploy a race equity lens to make both internal and external changes in policy and practice. These approaches can shed light not only on the root causes of racial inequity, but also illuminate the shifting dynamics of power, race, and identity.

Incorporating a Race Equity Lens into Organizational Culture

Incorporating a race equity lens into the work of human services agencies starts with understanding the problem and building internal buy-in to address it. Numerous resources have been developed by leading experts in the field that offer guidance on how organizations can begin walking down this path. While the details in these tools may vary and need to be adapted to each organization’s specific context, common themes include:

  • Prepare your organization – Building a race equity lens into your organization’s work requires an understanding among staff of the problem, its relevance to your work, and a shared vocabulary to engage in meaningful discussions. In the early phases of your work, it is often helpful to identify leaders within the organization to help champion the cause of race equity and to name race equity work as a strategic imperative in your organizational planning documents.
  • Guide your work through a framework – Following a structured framework to shift your work to include a race equity lens can help provide a pathway to make the needed changes. While there are many tools available, they generally emphasize the use of data to help drive improvements and incrementally shift organizations from internal assessment of policies, processes, and belief systems to external assessment of ways to address root causes within populations served.
  • Operationalize your work for the long-term – As a clear action plan takes form, organizations should consider strategies that embed race equity practices into routine organizational processes. Integrating this work into your communications, human resources, contracting, policy analysis, reporting, and organizational planning processes can help ensure your efforts lead to a permanent cultural shift.

APHSA Publications & Podcasts

As we continue to apply a race equity lens to everything we do, we also strive to share stories that showcase our members and partners’ race equity journeys.

NEW RELEASE! Disrupt The Dialogue – an APHSA Podcast Series

Disrupt the Dialogue features discussions with BIPOC leaders in the health and human services industry sharing how they have dealt with challenges pertaining to race in their lives and careers.

Policy & Practice: Advancing Race Equity April 2022

2020 Call to Action Series (as seen in Policy & Practice):

Our Dream Deferred – an APHSA Podcast Series

Our Dream Deferred features discussions with brilliant voices from unexpected places whose insights and lived experiences help deconstruct the American story.

Race Equity Blog Posts (as seen in the Catalyst):

Shifting Structural Power to Advance Race Equity A 3-Part Series by Tracy Wareing Evans - 2022

Race Equity Champions (as seen in Policy & Practice):

Engagement with Tribal Nations between the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and SNAP-Education (SNAP-Ed) programs.

Tracy Davis and Jennifer Rondini, Director and Supervisor of the Academy for Workforce Development, the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (CT DCF)

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services’ (DHS) Internal Council on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) and the External Council of Voices.

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS)
Department Director Kim Johnson; Office of Equity Director Marcela Ruiz; and Civil Rights, Accessibility, and Racial Equity (CARE) Office Chief Maureen Keffner.
Governing for Racial Equity: California’s Capitol Collaborative on Race & Equity

Lori Pfingst, Senior Director, Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS
Blueprint for a Just & Equitable Future: The 10-Year Plan to Dismantle Poverty

Michael Wisehart, Director of the Arizona Department of Employment Security (AZDES)

Kate Garvey, Director of the Department of Community and Human Services (DCHS) for the City of Alexandria
The Government Alliance on Race and Equity


Listed below are resources that can be used by human services agencies to develop action plans to develop a race equity lens and address structural bias and inequity.

Resources for Advancing Race Equity in TANF Programs
November 2022

Created in support of the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) Office of Family Assistance’s (OFA) by APHSA and BLH Technologies Inc., these new resources focus on mobilizing data and developing staff training & development to advance race equity in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

Mobilizing Data to Advance Race Equity in TANF Video

Tips for Mobilizing to Advance Race Equity in TANF Infographic

Advancing Race Equity via Staff Development & Training Video

Advancing Race Equity via Staff Development & Training Toolkit

APHSA Response - USDA Equity RFI

APHSA comment letter in response to a Request for Information issued by the federal government on "Identifying Barriers in USDA Programs and Services; Advancing Racial Justice and Equity and Support for Underserved Communities at USDA."

APHSA Response – OMB Equity RFI

APHSA comment letter in response to a Request for Information issued by the federal government on "Methods and Leading Practices for Advancing Equity and Support for Underserved Communities."

Advancing EDI: A Toolkit for Leaders

This toolkit is intended to provide resources and information in each of 10 areas as they relate to Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.

How can you be an Active Ally?

This Infographic highlights how to be a Race Equity ally.

Racial Wealth Equity Database
(Black Wealth Data Center)

Access national and county-level data that compares how race influences education, employment, asset ownership, and other indicators that contribute to wealth.

Racial Equity Toolkit – Keeping the Conversation Going
(New York Department of Social Services’ Office of Equity and Inclusion)

The toolkit was created to increase a shared understanding of racial equity and inclusion, to help us clearly define the terms we use in conversations. The racial equity toolkit is a resource list and reference tool that provides research, definitions, ideas, and guidance for employees that want to increase their own understanding of racial equity, systems, communities and culture at a large.

Racial Equity and Inclusion Videos and Reflection Questions
(The National Child Welfare Workforce Institute)

This video collection about racial equity features reflection questions to help you think about the past year and plan for the next.

State Statutes Search
(Child Welfare Information Gateway)

This is federal data tool to search for all 50 states statutes in child abuse and neglect, child welfare, and adoption.

The Structural Racism Remedies Repository
(Berkeley’s Othering & Belonging Institute)

A repository of policy-based recommendations for addressing structural and systemic racism or advancing racial equity drawn from a vast array of published material.

Liberatory Design - Minds & Modes to Design for Equity

This card deck from Liberatory Design serves as a tool to ground and focus your design practice as well as provide process guidance.

The Community Opportunity Map
(Casey Family Programs)

Community Opportunity Map (COM), an interactive tool designed to increase access to available information about communities, environmental and community indicators commonly associated with child maltreatment.

Tracking homeownership wealth gaps
(Urban Institute)

An interactive tool exploring cities aggregate housing wealth to uncover the drivers of racial and ethnic housing gaps.

National Equity Atlas

Data visualization tools to advance race equity and inclusive recovery

National Equity Atlas

Regional, state, and national data and resources for policymakers interested in growing an equitable economy.

Communicating on Race and Racial Economic Equity
(Prosperity Now)

Tool to communicate about race and understand racial wealth divide

2020 Kids Count Data Book
(Annie E Casey Foundation)

Databook assessing child well-being at the state and national level before the pandemic (2010-2018) across four key domains: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.

Awake to Woke to Work: Building a Race Equity Culture
(Equity in the Center)

Reference guide to help organizations build and expand capacity to advance race equity

to communicate about race and understand racial wealth divide


Placing Equity Concerns at the Center of Knowledge Development
(Center for the Study of Social Policy)

Overview of elements needed to use knowledge and evidence in a manner that places equity at the center of human services planning

Creating a Racial Equity & Social Justice Policy
(Montgomery County Government)

Tool to achieve racial equity and social justice in Montgomery County in Maryland

Racial Equity Core Teamsy
(Government Alliance on Race and Equity)

Guide for organizations to establish and scale cross-departmental core teams that help lead efforts to achieve equitable systems change

Advancing Racial Equity and Transforming Government: A Resource Guide to Put Ideas into Action
(Government Alliance on Race and Equity)

Government-focused guide to operationalizing a race equity lens

The White Ally Toolkit Workbook
(David Campt, 2018)

Guide for organizations to achieve racial equity through using active listening, empathy, and personal storytelling

Communication Guide
(Government Alliance on Race and Equity)

Tool to communicate about race and structural racial inequalities

Racial Equity: Getting to Results
(Government Alliance on Race and Equity)

Tool to assist jurisdictions using a race equity lens to identify metrics and implement a community process to have greater impact in their work.

Race Equity toolkit: Applying a racial equity lens to your organization
(Housing Development Consortium)

Toolkit helping organizations build skills to develop policies and practices that reduce racial disparities.

Transforming Organizational Culture Assessment Tool (TOCA)
(MP Associates)

The Transforming Organizational Culture Assessment (TOCA) tool and instrument for deepening internal organizational work on advancing racial equity, by specifically addressing white dominant culture

Racial Equity Toolkit: An Opportunity to Operationalize Equity
(Government Alliance on Race and Equity)

Tool to bring a race equity lens into operations and decision-making within government agencies.

Race Equity and Inclusion Action Guide
(Annie E. Casey Foundation)

Reference guide describing seven steps to undertaking race equity and inclusion work

Race equity impact assessment
(Center for the Study of Social Policy)

Assessment tool to identify relevant racial information advance equity policy development

Social determinant framework
(Equity and Empowerment Lens)

Race equity assessment tool using numerous models (river, linear, and relational ) adopted by Multnomah County Office of Diversity and Equity

Power Analysis survey
(Communities creating healthy environments)

Interactive tool used to map and understand power relationships in the communities where we live or work

Building Organizational Capacity for Social Justice: Framework, approach, and tools
(National Gender and Equity Campaign)

Social justice framework that involves community readiness, political moments, and social justice infrastructure to increase organizational capacity

Advancing the mission: Tools for equity, diversity, and inclusion
(Annie E Casey Foundation)

Toolkit helps organizations develop a shared language to facilitate productive discussion and strengthened staff competencies around EDI

Moving a racial justice agenda: Organizational assessmen
(Western States Center)

Organizational assessment to identify potential barriers to advance and sustain a racial justice work

Achieving Racial Equity: Child Welfare Policy Strategies to Improve Outcomes for Children of Color
(Center for the Study of Social Policy)

This report depicts the racial inequalities in foster care and provides recommendations to remove those disparities including promoting nuanced data (mandate the collection of data by race, ethnicity, gender and age, invest in longitudinal data collection), developing evidence base for policies and programs, supporting cross system collaboration.

Structures of Oppression in the U.S. Child Welfare System: Reflections on Administrative Barriers to Equity

This article highlights the structures primarily the policies, law and regulations that contribute or reinforce the racial disparities in the child welfare system. Those structures include mandated reporting, substantiation decisions, decision making processes, background checks and conservative interpretations of confidentiality statutes.

Race and the Work of the Future: Advancing Workforce Equity in the United States

This report provides a comprehensive analysis of long-standing racial gaps in labor market outcomes, the economic impacts of Covid-19, and the racial equity implications of automation.

Earnings instability and child protection: Evidence from state administrative data
(The Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis)

This study examines the impact of income stability--measured by one-time wage shocks, cumulative wage shocks, and stable earnings duration—on child maltreatment risk.

Transforming Child Welfare: Prioritizing Prevention, Racial Equity, and Advancing Child and Family Well-Being
(National Council on Family Relations)

This policy brief advances several recommendations for policymakers to transform child welfare system through prevention lens and address institutional racism. Those recommendations focus on mandatory reporting systems, investing in evidence based interventions, and increasing funding for kinship care

Racial Disproportionality and Disparities in the Child Welfare System: Why Do They Exist, and What Can Be Done to Address Them?
(The American Academy of Political and Social Science)

This study uncovers the causes of racial disproportionality in the child welfare system and address the structural and institutional racism that contribute to the separation of children from their families.

The Surveillance Tentacles Of The Child Welfare System
(The Columbia Journal of Race And Law)

This report examines the impact of cross system surveillance (medical providers, social services agencies, the police and school) in child welfare and highlights the inequalities implications of these cross sector surveillance especially the disproportionate effects on Black and Brown families.

Federal Policies Can Address the Impact of Structural Racism on Black Families’ Access to Early Care and Education
(Child Trends)

This brief sheds light on the role of federal policies in creating, maintaining, and addressing inequities brought about by structural racism, with a specific focus on access to early care and education for Black families.

Homeownership, racial segregation, and policy solutions to racial wealth equity
(Brookings Institute)

This report provides a comprehensive overview of the role of segregation, discrimination, and racism in the housing market, as well as policy opportunities and recommendations to reduce these racial disparities.

Methods and leading practices for advancing equity and support for underserved communities through government
(Office of Management and Budget)

Office of Budget and Management summary of its request for information on existing tools and approaches to advance race equity, especially for underserved communities.

The intersection of adolescent development and Anti-Black racism
(UCLA Center for the Developing Adolescent)

Report synthesizes research on the effect of racism on key developmental milestones of adolescence such as identity formation and belonging and agency.

What we owe young children
(Center for the Study of Social Policy)

This report examines the root causes of systemic inequalities and advances anti-racist families and early childhood policies to ensure well-being of ally young children.

The roots of structural racism project
(Othering and Belonging Institute)

This report provides an interactive mapping tool to identify racial residential segregation across the United States.

Black Americans say coronavirus has hit hard financially, but impact varies by education level, age.
(Pew Research Center)

This report assesses the economic effect of the pandemic on financial outlook of Black families through the Center’s American Trends Panel survey.

For love of country: A path for the federal government to advance racial equity
(Policy Link)

This report provides resources for how the federal government and its agencies can help build an equitable society.

It’s time for a new approach in race equity
(McKinsey & Company)

This report explores a new concerted and coordinate effort across different sectors to reverse negative trends of racial inequality.

Opportunity Insights
(Harvard University)

Report explores racial disparities in income mobility in the U.S

Roots of Health Inequality
(National Association of County Health Officials)

Online learning collaborative that explores root causes of health inequality

Child Maltreatment 2020

Child Maltreatment 2020 presents national data about child abuse and neglect known to child protective services (CPS) agencies in the United States during federal fiscal year (FFY) 2020. The data are collected and analyzed through the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS), Children’s Bureau (Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Administration for Children and Families) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Start with Equity: 14 Priorities to Dismantle Systemic Racism in Early Care and Education
(ASU’s Center for Child and Family Success)

This report outlines 14 critical priorities and actionable policies that federal and state policymakers can immediately and concretely utilize to advance equity in the early care and education system.

A Pandemic within a pandemic: How Coronavirus and systemic racism are harming infants and toddlers of color
(The Center for Law and Social Policy)

Report examines the impact of systemic racism on children’s development and assesses how the pandemic have amplified systemic inequalities in health, education, and employment

How the foster care system has become ground zero for the U.S drug war
(Movement for Family Power)

Report explores the impact of the foster system on Black and Brown families and communities including the effect of drug usage within those families

Reflections and recommendations from interviews with eight childhood Education policy leaders of color: Why is everyone at the policy tables so White?
(University of Maryland)

This report explores the difficulties of involving people of color in the decision-making process and share recommendations on how childhood policymaking can be more ethnically diverse and inclusive

Closing the racial inequality gaps: The economic cost of black inequality in the U.S
(Global Perspectives and Solutions)

This report identifies root causes of racial and economic gaps amplified by COVID-19 and outlines governmental actions to eliminate those gaps.

The dual crisis: How the COVID-19 recession deepens racial and economic inequality among communities of color
(The Center for Law and Social Policy)

This report examines the impact of COVID on communities of color and recommends numerous federal and state policies to support Black workers.

laborative that explores root causes of health inequality


We Treat Everybody the Same: Race Equity in Child Welfare
(Social Work in Public Health)

This report explores the implicit bias and the disparate entry of African American in the child welfare system and assesses the role racism in the equitable provision of child welfare services.

What Would It Take To Overcome The Damaging Effects of Structural Racism and Ensure a More Equitable Future?
(Urban Institute)

This brief gives particular attention to the policies and practices that have systematically disadvantaged Black people while recognizing that Native American people, Latinx people, and people of Asian and Pacific Islander descent also have experienced profound injustices and face continuing inequities.

Moving Forward Together: CSSP’s Journey to Center Equity, Inclusion, and Justice
(Center for the Study of Social Policy)

Short narrative summarizing the Center for the Study of Social Policy’s journey towards advancing race equity.

A case study in public child welfare: county-level practices that address racial disparity in foster care placement
(Journal of Public Child Welfare)

This study assesses through interviews and focus groups the drivers in the decline of black children in foster care. The study reveals some promising practices such as community collaboration, workforce diversity and the court system to cope with the overrepresentation of black children in the foster care system.

Racial Equity Action Plans: A How-to Manual
(Government Alliance on Race and Equity)

Framework for local governments to apply a theory of change for implementing a racial equity action plan.

Fresno County Department of Social Services: Confronting Racial Inequities and Disproportionality to Improve Child Welfare Outcomes for Children & Families
(Center for the Study of Social Policy)

This report explores the drivers of the over-representation of African Americans children in the child welfare system through a robust engagement with commu+E2:F9nity partnerships and leveraging new funding streams and improving transparency with families about DSS operations and decision making.

Talking Productively About Race in the Colorblind Era
(Kirwan Institute)

Report examines the variances of racial colorblindness and its implications on race equity

Disparities and Disproportionality in Child Welfare: Analysis of the Research
(Convened by the Center for the Study of Social Policy and The Annie E. Casey Foundation on behalf of The Alliance for Racial Equity in Child Welfare)

This study examines child welfare decision making stages in Child Protective Services referrals, investigations, substantiations, placement in foster care, exits from foster care and assesses their equity implications in service delivery

Understanding and Addressing Racial/Ethnic Disproportionality in the Front End of the Child Welfare System
(Journal of Evidence-Based Social Work)

This report combs the literature examining disproportionality in the front end of child welfare systems and identifies some evidence based practices to improve child welfare processes and outcome for families of color.

Proven Strategies for Addressing Unconscious Bias in the Workplace
(Cook Ross)

Study examines unconscious bias and testing mechanisms and prevention strategies

Building a Multi-Ethnic, Inclusive, & Antiracist Organization
(Safe House)

Brief packet with frameworks, definitions, and resources for building an inclusive and tolerant organizational culture.

APHSA Peer Learning Webinar
Healing and Transformation within EDI Leadership
December 2022

APHSA’s EDI Peer Community brings together state and local leaders from across the country to share innovations that transform the field by eliminating disparities and increasing positive outcomes for communities of color.

Crucial Conversations on Race Equity in Human Services
APHSA - NSDTA Showcase Series Webinar

This webinar facilitates the history, challenges and best practices on race equity in the human services sector. The panel consists of national EDI leaders who discuss how their organizations are addressing this critical issue, available resources and lessons learned.

TFAH Webinar Series on Achieving Health Equity through Collaborations, Innovative Funding and Leadership
Trust for America Health

Webinar explores strategies to promote health and race equity