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United States. Children's Bureau.
Chibnall, Susan.;Dutch, Nicole M.;Jones-Harden, Brenda.;Brown, Annie.;Gourdine, Ruby.
Recommendations for Future Research
The findings from this study have shed light on child welfare staff perceptions of the issue of racial disproportionality, which has not been accomplished in any other study to date. Emerging from these data are questions that to some extent have been answered by other studies, and others that have not received any empirical attention. Although there are several research implications of these data, three global themes emerged from this qualitative study.
- Research on racial disproportionality must move beyond the examination of administrative data. The results of this small qualitative study provided a richness that has not existed in this area of research to date. Other qualitative studies, in combination with exploratory and hypothesis-driven quantitative studies, would provide an increased understanding of this complex issue.
- It is essential that the research in this area inform practice. Many participants expressed a desire to address the issue of racial disproportionality head on, but felt uncertain about strategies that a child welfare system could undertake. In addition, in those agencies where research was being conducted around the issue of disproportionality, staff were generally unaware that these efforts were underway and had no knowledge of previous or current findings. Empirical evaluations of practice strategies would provide guidance in this area as would an overall dissemination plan for findings that would require researchers to disseminate findings, in appropriate forums, to the field itself.
- The sites in this study served children and families of many ethnic and racial groups. Many of these groups are not represented in the empirical literature on racial disproportionality. For example, the evidence on the newly arrived Southeast Asian immigrants is basically non-existent in current literature. It is essential that the research on racial disproportionality examine more than just black and white differences in the trajectories of children in the child welfare system. Additionally, it is important to unpack the larger ethnic groupings to conduct sub-group analyses (e.g., children with Mexican ancestry vs. Puerto Rican ancestry).
The following section discusses further the implications of the specific findings of this study for future research. Included in the discussion are the linkages between the current study findings and evidence from the existing literature on the phenomenon of racial disproportionality. Implications for future research are discussed in the context of overarching questions that the data suggest.
What is the impact of systemic reforms and their resulting practices on racial disproportionality in the child welfare system?
In several of the site visits, specifically those in California, North Carolina, and Illinois, administrators suggested that global, systemic, reform efforts would ultimately reduce racial disproportionality. Certainly, the data from the Illinois site indicate that such policy changes as subsidized guardianship and relative adoption can reduce the numbers of minority children in the system, thereby reducing racial disproportionality. The North Carolina Families for Kids initiative also documented the effectiveness of this effort for all children in the child welfare system, but also provided evidence that at least in this specific site racial disproportionality was reduced. It will be important for other agencies that attempt these models to evaluate their effectiveness so that there is an opportunity to replicate the Illinois and North Carolina data.
In addition, other reforms that are not as culturally based should be examined for their impact on disproportionality. For example, as a means for reducing over-representation, some managerial staff pushed for an increased focus on permanency outcomes (e.g. tracking, supporting relevant practices). Outcomes could be examined by testing the relationship between achievement of permanency goals in an agency and the numbers of children of color in the system. Direct service and managerial staff in several sites discussed policy decisions that mandate the use of specific models (e.g., Family to Family, family group conferencing, Families for Kids). Evaluation of these models should always include some analysis of their impact by race. Finally, the Georgia site discussed the salience of judicial reform efforts in the experiences of minority children and families. It is important to include variables related to racial disproportionality in studies evaluating such judicial reform efforts (e.g., relative number of foster care dispositions and Termination of Parental Rights in different racial groups, and services mandated for families of varying races).
Do those who report child abuse and neglect discriminate against families of color?
An issue that was raised in multiple sites was the differential reporting rates for families of color versus majority families. Staff particularly identified hospital and school personnel as reporters who tended to over-report minority families. The literature on reporting rates by reporter and the race of family reported is very limited, but tends to point to some disproportionality. Future research should target hospital and school personnel and examine their reporting rates by race of family. This could be accomplished by examining administrative data regarding reports, but could be more richly examined by qualitative studies of these reporters and quantitative research designs using hypothetical scenarios or questionnaires. In addition to understanding if these reporters are more likely to report families of color for abuse and neglect, it also would be important to determine why these reporters make the decisions they do.
Are culture-specific, prevention programs successful in reducing the numbers of children entering the child welfare system?
Several of the sites, including Georgia and Minnesota had implemented prevention programs targeted to minority children and families. Evaluation of such programs should not just address whether families improve as a result of experiencing the intervention. The evaluations should include an examination of the effect of the program on racial disproportionality. This would necessitate an investigation of whether specific minority groups who had experienced the intervention were less likely to enter or exit from the child welfare system when compared to a similar group who had not experienced the intervention. A randomized control design (or at least a quasi-experimental design) would be most beneficial to address this issue. It would also be useful to address whether such culture-specific interventions had a differential impact on minority children and families as opposed to children and families from the majority group.
Do targeted recruitment programs, designed to increase the numbers of minority foster and adoptive parents, result in decreased numbers of minority children in the child welfare system?
Several of the sites, including those in Texas and Illinois, had specialized recruitment efforts designed to increase the numbers of foster and adoptive placements for minority children. When these programs are evaluated, results have been mixed. Such recruitment efforts should always include an evaluation component, which at the very least addresses whether the initiatives have had an impact on the numbers of minority children awaiting placement. More refined analysis could examine whether permanency is more likely to be achieved for the group of minority children who receive these specialized services when compared to a group that does not receive such services.
Do staff characteristics influence the trajectories of minority children in the child welfare system?
Child welfare workers and administrative staff in this study underscored the importance of having a diverse workforce to address the needs of children and families of color. They also emphasized that staff should not just represent diverse racial groups, but should be culturally competent. This point was highlighted in the Illinois site where recent data have suggested that both African-American and Caucasian workers are more likely to substantiate maltreatment in African-American families than in Caucasian families. Thus, future research should examine issues such as the relation of worker race to child welfare decision-making regarding maltreatment substantiation, foster care placement, and termination of parental rights. Issues such as race matching between workers and families and level of cultural competence would also be important to investigate in terms of their impact on the trajectories of minority children.
Do minority children and families have a different level of resources when compared to majority children and families?
The data from this study suggest that Caucasian families have more resources available to them than families from minority groups, even when their socioeconomic status is similar. Many study participants attributed this to Caucasian families having more community support and being clearer about what their rights and entitlements are. To address this question, neighborhood and other ecological variables could be examined to determine the availability of community and other supports (e.g., private attorneys) for different groups of families. Given the research that suggests that these factors may be more influential of minority families' use of services than simple availability, accessibility and outreach issues would be important to examine. Additionally, future research could examine whether service providers who are reflective of the culture of minority families, or are at least culturally competent, produce improved outcomes for children and families when compared to service providers who are not.
In line with this issue, study participants indicated that child welfare agency collaboration with other systems (e.g. substance abuse, housing) would positively influence service provision to minority families. In addition, they discussed the importance of having such services provided by community-based agencies that had a presence in minority neighborhoods. Evaluating the differential impact of such service models on the trajectories of minority children would contribute greatly to the literature on racial disproportionality. For example, future research could evaluate programs which basically provide the same service, but one administered by a community group that is entrenched in the community and one administered by a private agency that is less reflective of the culture of the families.
What are the effects of cultural competency and cultural sensitivity training on actual child welfare practice?
Workers and administrators in this study reported having participated in various types of cultural competency training. Agencies that provided the training offered it at varying times during the tenure of employees at the agency. Unfortunately, there are a limited number of studies on the impact of cultural competency on actual child welfare practice, including its effect on practice, and the quality of services provided to children and their families.
There is also limited empirical evidence to support long-term changes related to such training. The question is: If there is an effect, how long does it last in new workers? Similarly unknown is the frequency with which the training should be provided, and the influence of exposure to diverse cultural groups on cultural sensitivity. These issues need to be addressed careful research. Empirical research findings can be used by agencies to both answer these questions and develop effective training curriculum for agency staff.
Existing research on cultural competency is also limited in its generalizability. The empirical evidence that exists has been conceptualized and gathered in such a way that conclusions are agency specific. Future research should utilize designs that are generalizable to a wide range of types of agencies.
It is likely that the absence of generalizability of findings has served as a barrier to the diffusion of training to systems related to child welfare. Most frequently, public agency child welfare employees reported receiving such training at the beginning of their tenure at the agency. However, employees in other systems, including the courts, reported participation in cultural competency training much less frequently. Judges, lawyers, teachers, and other critical players in the child welfare arena will have little incentive to participate in training if no demonstrable effect has been described in practice or professional literature, or experienced by system participants. Thus training must be elevated to a level worthy of serious scientific study.
What about Federal policies?
An important point of discussion was participants' perception of the impact of specific Federal policies (e.g. ASFA, MEPA) on their work with children of color. In regard to MEPA, some workers were not aware of the provisions of the law and, when they had knowledge of them, were not sure how to interpret them. Others did not see that the law had any impact on their practice. ASFA was alternately perceived as positive or negative by workers, depending on their point of view about the rights and needs of biological parents. It would be beneficial for the field to examine more closely child welfare workers' understanding and perception of such policies and, more importantly, their practices as a result or in spite of these policies. Moreover, it is important to address the long-term implications of these policies for children of color. For example, does the implementation of MEPA lead to increased permanency for minority children as it was intended? Does ASFA lead to premature terminations of parental rights as is feared by many child welfare workers?
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