The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Disproportionality and Disparities for Latinos and Native Americans: Predictors of Race/Ethnicity in Decision Points in Public Child Welfare

Friday, January 17, 2014
HBG Convention Center, Bridge Hall Street Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Lawanna Lancaster, PhD, Associate Professor, Northwest Nazarene University, Nampa, ID
Rowena Fong, EdD, Ruby Lee Piester Centennial Professor, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
Purpose: This study identifies micro, mezzo, and macro level factors which contribute to disparities in the removal decision among Latino and Native Americans in a public child welfare system. Although research on disproportionality has largely been focused on African Americans (Green, Belanger, McRoy, & Bullard, 2011), research on Latinos and particularly, Native Americans, is scarce. Most studies on disproportionality focus on macro level factors such as the impact of poverty or presence of institutional racism (Dettlaff & Rycraft, 2011), however the macro factor of rural community, the mezzo factors of family characteristics of public assistance and domestic violence, and the micro factors of child characteristics of gender, race and ethnicity are often missing in studies on decision points in public child welfare. This study explored the extent to which race/ethnicity contributed to decisions in the child welfare process of Latino and Native American families. Using a Systems Theory framework, the research questions asked if disparity for Latinos and Native Americans changed across decision points in the child welfare process (Derezotes, Richardson, King, Kleinschmit, & Pratt, 2011).

Methods: Using AFCARS and NCANDS files for all families (n = 4,547) referred for abuse or neglect to a public child welfare system between April 1 and September 30, 2009, this secondary data analysis used hierarchical linear modeling to determine the influence of 11 variables on the early decision points of investigation, removal, and disposition.  Macro variables included rural community; mezzo variables included family’s reason for referral, public assistance, and domestic violence; and micro variables included child’s gender, race and ethnicity.

Results: Native American children were 4.39 times more likely to be removed than White children and Latino children were 1.78 times more likely to be removed than White children.  Poverty was a factor in removal at the micro and macro levels.  Children reported for physical abuse were more likely to be investigated, but less likely to be removed, than children reported for neglect.  The assessment of disparity at various decision points revealed that Native Americans, Latinos, and African Americans experience disparity in the early decision-making process of a child welfare case.  For African American children, the greatest disparity occurs at disposition (3.8 disproportionality rate).  Latino children were underrepresented at referral, but overrepresented at removal and disposition, with the greatest disproportionality at removal (1.28).  Native American children also have the greatest disparity at disposition (8.43), although they experience disparity at every initial point in the child welfare process.

Implications: To fully understand the role of race in the decision to investigate referrals and to remove children, it is important to be able to explain the relationship between race and other possible predictors such as domestic violence or parental substance abuse. A couple of the issues identified as contributors to the removal decision, domestic violence and receipt of public assistance, could potentially be helped through the provision of services to families rather than removal of the child.  More research studies including systemic factors such as poverty and rurality as possible contributors to disproportionality are needed.