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Addressing Racial Disproportionality in Child Welfare
Series: Issue Briefs|
Child Welfare Information Gateway |
|Year Published: 2011|
Reporting and Screening
Most families first come into contact with the child welfare system due to a report of suspected maltreatment. Studies show that African-American families are more likely to be reported, although research indicates that this may be due, in part, to socioeconomic status and not race alone (Derezotes & Poertner, 2005). Certain reforms in practice and training have been suggested to reduce the disproportionate number of reports made to child welfare agencies of suspected abuse and neglect affecting minority children.
Training for Mandated Reporters
In some cases, child welfare agencies have noted that mandated reporters (such as teachers and physicians) report the suspected maltreatment of minority children more. Teachers may have difficulty distinguishing the effects of poverty from actual neglect and may also confuse cultural differences with neglect. Physicians staffing birthing centers in hospitals may be more likely to require postpartum drug tests for African-American new mothers than for White new mothers (Chibnall et al., 2003).
Mandated reporters, who differ in every State, may require more specific guidelines and better training materials than the brief checklist that often serves as their training for reporting child abuse and neglect. States can develop and provide training materials for mandated reporters that include specific guidelines for detecting symptoms of abuse and neglect, help reporters distinguish neglect from poverty, and incorporate a cultural awareness approach. Jurisdictions may also want to provide lists of community resources that mandated reporters can turn to when they want to support families.
Bridging Refugee Youth & Children's Services (BRYCS) has conducted research and developed tools that address the intersection of child welfare and refugee or immigrant families, most of whom are families of color. BRYCS has designed a tool to help teachers and schools distinguish between cultural differences and child maltreatment when determining whether to report suspected maltreatment (BRYCS, 2010). The tool points to resources that teachers and school personnel may use to support refugee families experiencing stress.
Training for Government Staff
Due to the disproportional rates of poverty, staff of government agencies may have more contact with minority families seeking services or government benefits. The higher visibility of these families may result in their being referred to the child welfare system at a higher rate. Employees of government agencies that offer concrete services (such as cash assistance, food stamps, housing, and transportation) and social services may benefit from cultural competence training to make them aware of the potential for excessive referrals.
The literature cites some interesting and contradictory findings regarding whether reports alleging abuse of children of color are more likely to be "screened in" than reports alleging abuse of White children (see Gryzlak, Wells, & Johnson, 2005, for an illuminating discussion). One study found that African-American children were more likely to be screened in for investigation than White children in cases of emotional maltreatment, physical neglect, or fatal or serious injury, as well as in cases reported by mental health or social service professionals or involving drugs or alcohol (Sedlak & Schultz, 2005). Many factors may affect the screening decision, and agencies should examine how the characteristics of the case, the worker, agency policy, and screening criteria affect the numbers of children of different races whose cases are screened in for investigation.
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