Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

17141 Factors That Influence the Removal Decision In Child Protective Services: Development of An Instrument to Understand the Decision-Making Process

Friday, January 13, 2012: 10:30 AM
Cabin John (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Alan J. Dettlaff, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL
J. Christopher Graham, PhD, Research Scientist/Statistician, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Donald Baumann, PhD, Research Associate, Child Protection Research Center, Englewood, CO
John D. Fluke, PhD, Vice President, American Humane Association, Englewood, CO
Purpose: When children come to the attention of the child welfare system, they become involved in a decision-making process in which decisions are made that have a significant effect on their future and well-being. The decision to remove children from their families is particularly complex given the lifelong impacts on children and families. Yet, despite the complexity and consequences of this decision, surprisingly little is understood about this decision-making process. The aim of this study is to further explore, at the caseworker level, the context of the removal decision, with the objective of providing a more detailed picture than has previously been available of the inter-relationships among case, caseworker and organizational factors that influence this decision.

Methods: Using the Decision-Making Ecology framework (Baumann, Dalgleish, Fluke, & Kern, 2011), an instrument was developed for use with child protection caseworkers to assess the influence of case, caseworker, and organizational factors on the removal decision-making process. A seven scale variant of the instrument was based on an instrument developed by Fluke, Baumann, and colleagues (2001) and Baumann and colleagues (1997) for use in previous studies examining characteristics related to decision-making in maltreatment investigations, and expanded based on qualitative data obtained from caseworkers as part of a larger study examining factors contributing to the removal decision in one state. The instrument was administered to all child protection caseworkers in the state, and the resulting sample of convenience included 1,125 caseworkers who returned the survey. Analyses included reliability analyses, principal components analyses, and inter-correlations among the resulting scales.

Results: Reliability analyses demonstrated acceptable to high internal consistency for 6 of the 7 scales with Chronbach's alphas ranging from .653 to .946. For one scale regarding removal decisions a principal components analysis resulted in the extraction of two components identified as caseworkers' decision-making orientation. Based on the items included in these components, the orientations were described as an internal reference and an external reference to decision-making. Caseworkers with an internal reference were more likely to be influenced by their personal beliefs about parenting and how they were raised, while those with an external reference were more likely to be influenced by the impact of their decisions on children and an understanding of families' feelings. Inter-correlations of these scales demonstrated distinctly different types of associations with other scales, suggesting that they are measuring very different aspects of caseworker removal decision-making. Full details of the reliability analyses, principal components analyses, and inter-correlations among the seven scales will be presented.

Implications: This study provides new information regarding the utility of research tools that can be used to support our understanding of decision-making within child welfare and the factors considered when making the removal decision. This information is important given the complexity and uncertainty of these decisions, as well as the seriousness of their outcomes on children and families. These results can be used to inform future research efforts related to decision-making, as well as to further develop and refine policy, workforce development, and assessment of the decision-making process.