Bridging Disciplinary Boundaries (January 11 - 14, 2007)

Marina Room (Hyatt Regency San Francisco)

Reported and Unreported Re-Abuse Following Child Welfare Involvement: Racial and Ethnic Differences

Patricia Kohl, PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Although the fundamental mission of child welfare services (CWS) is the safety of children, many children experience subsequent maltreatment following child welfare involvement. Official new reports of maltreatment (“re-reports”) are the most common mechanism through which recurrent maltreatment is measured. Yet, they do not capture the entirety of children's maltreatment experiences. The purpose of this study is to examine both official re-reports and unreported physical abuse over the 36 months following a maltreatment investigation. Furthermore, because Black children are over represented in CWS, racial/ethnic differences are examined.

The subset of NSCAW used for this study were children who remained in home following the baseline maltreatment investigation (n = 3438). The sample was 30% Black, 45% White, 18% Hispanic and 7% of other racial or ethic backgrounds. Chi-square tests and logistic regression analyses were used to examine official re-reports and unreported physical abuse of children of different racial/ethnic backgrounds.

Between baseline and 36 months, 29% of all children had a re-report. Rates of re-report varied significantly for different racial/ethnic backgrounds. Hispanic children were more likely to have a re-report (38%) than Black children (29%) and White children (25%). When controlling for other case characteristics, race/ethnicity remained significantly related to re-report. In addition, maltreatment reports prior to baseline, maternal mental illness, and poverty significantly predicted a re-report. Furthermore, tests of the interaction between race and poverty further explain re-abuse dynamics.

Regardless of the maltreatment type which led to child welfare involvement, a substantial proportion of children experienced physical abuse between baseline and 36-months. Overall, caregivers of 12% of all children self reported that they used physically abusive parenting behaviors during the study window. When examined by race/ethnicity, significantly (p < .001) more caregivers of Black children reported using physically abusive parenting tactics (19%) compared to 8% of caregivers of White children and 14% of caregivers of Hispanic children. Much of the self reported physical abuse did not result in a re-report. Only 25% of children whose caregivers self reported using physical abuse toward them had a re-report. Differences by race/ethnicity were not found in either the bivariate or multivariate analyses of unreported maltreatment. When controlling for other case characteristics, among children with caregiver reported physical abuse, children in urban areas were more likely to have their physical abuse remain unreported compared to children in non-urban areas.

Although rates of re-report in this national sample are high for children of all race/ethnicities, Hispanic and Black children are overrepresented suggesting disproportionality in child welfare re-involvement. Additionally, that physical abuse remains unreported for some children reveals that rates of re-abuse relying only on re-reports misses some recurrent maltreatment. The occurrence of ongoing maltreatment is a signal that CWS are insufficient in eliminating some maltreatment. Furthermore, that re-report is associated with race/ethnicity suggests differences in the adequacy of services for children from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. The higher rates of physical abuse reported by caregivers of African American and Hispanic children indicate that parenting programs should also address cultural differences in parenting practices.