HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- For Black children in foster care in Harris County, the journey to a forever family can be a long one, full of obstacles.
Now, one organization is working to attract foster and adoptive parents to help address the disproportionality of Black children in the local foster care system.
"I've been doing this work for 25 years now. It's an issue that has been growing," said DeJuana Jernigan, president and CEO of Arms Wide Adoption Services.
While these children make up just 18% of the child population in Harris County, they represent 47% of the children in foster care. There are presently more than 1,300 Black children in foster homes locally.
By comparison, white children make up 22% of the population, but only 16% of children in foster care.
Jernigan said Black children face disproportionate outcomes in childhood, and are two to three times more likely to be reported for abuse or neglect, investigated and removed from their families of origin.
Once in foster care, data shows Black children wait longer than children of other races to be adopted or reunited with their biological families.
Earlier this year, Arms Wide launched "It Takes a Village," an initiative designed to engage and attract people interested in fostering and adopting Black children.
At its center is an emphasis on cultural competency, the ability to acknowledge and honor the needs specific to African American foster children, Jernigan said.
"Culturally competent care starts with a conversation," said foster mother Aronda Green. "The fact that Arms Wide is having the conversation and bringing attention, and being willing to talk about it... it starts there."
Green, an elementary school principal in Brookshire, was one of the first parents to sign up for the program.
She said the road to bringing her foster daughter home happened quickly, with only a 24-hour notification before she was placed.
Green, who is now in the process of adopting her daughter, credits Arms Wide's village of support for helping her as a new mom.
"If you call, we are going to answer. If you send an email, we are going to respond," Jernigan said. "We are just that committed to making sure that we get as many families as possible to ensure there are enough foster and adoptive families for our children in the Houston area."
If you have questions about fostering and adopting children in need, Arms Wide is hosting a free virtual information meeting on Jan. 12 from 6-8 p.m. Visit ArmsWideAdoption.org to learn more.