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Addressing Racial Disproportionality in Child Welfare
Series: Issue Briefs|
Child Welfare Information Gateway |
|Year Published: 2011|
Investigation and Assessment
Not only are minority families disproportionately reported for abuse and neglect, their cases are also more likely to be substantiated at investigation. In 2008, 21.9 percent of all substantiated cases of maltreatment involved African-American children (14.2 percent of the general child population) (U.S. HHS, 2010; U.S. Census Bureau, 2009). Strategies that may improve the investigative and assessment processes are the use of assessment tools and cultural competency training.
Given that there is often a cultural divide between a family being investigated and the worker conducting the investigation, the use of risk assessment tools, as well as standardized definitions, can help guide the worker in assessing families on safety and risk issues. Use of standardized tools may remove some error from the decision-making process (Chibnall et al., 2003). Workers who have detailed and culturally relevant guidelines about what constitutes abuse and neglect can more easily control bias. Not all standardized tools, however, have been sufficiently tested on children from racial and ethnic minority groups, thus leading to a potential increase in bias. Agencies should be familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of any tools they use and train supervisors and workers to be aware of any potential bias that the assessment tool may introduce into the decision-making process.
The California Family Risk Assessment (CFRA) was developed in the late 1990s in order to help workers assess the risk of maltreatment recurrence. The CFRA was part of a larger child welfare structured decision-making project that aimed to help workers improve decision-making when determining risk. An analysis by Will Johnson (2005) that specifically explored possible problems with racial bias in the CFRA found that use of the instrument would not disproportionately select families of color as being at high risk.
|Project||The Minnesota Structured Decision Making© Family Risk Assessment (FRA)|
|Researcher||The Institute of Applied Research, St. Louis, MO|
|Goal||To measure the validity and reliability of the FRA in predicting recurrence of child maltreatment in 15,000 families, including five subpopulations of Caucasian, African-American, American Indian, Southeast Asian, and Hispanic families|
|Method||The FRA was completed by caseworkers for each family as part of a structured decision-making battery of instruments, and families were rated as being at low, medium, high, or intensive risk for recurrence of maltreatment. Families were provided with services deemed as appropriate and followed for 24 months, and all instances of reported recurrence of maltreatment were tracked. In addition, another group of caseworkers completed online versions of the FRA based on different vignettes in which the family's race was varied, so that researchers could determine whether families of different races received different ratings from caseworkers.|
|Results||Overall, the FRA showed predictive validity in classifying families as being at low, medium, high, or intensive risk for recurrence of abuse or neglect. It showed levels of predictive validity for the five racial and ethnic subpopulations similar to the entire study sample, with two main exceptions: It was more accurate with the Southeast Asian families and less accurate with the American Indian families than with the overall population. On the vignette study, no differences in risk rating were found by race. Researchers concluded that while the FRA is not designed to be the sole assessment for determining whether families are at risk for maltreatment recurrence, it is a valid screening tool that showed few racial or ethnic biases and may contribute to decision-making consistency in casework with families.|
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