The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

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

From Investigating to Engaging Families: Working Toward Racial Equity in Child Welfare

Sunday, January 19, 2014: 11:15 AM
HBG Convention Center, Room 102B Street Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Annette M. Semanchin Jones, MSW, Graduate Research Assistant, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, St. Paul, MN
Purpose:  Pressing issues facing child welfare include:  (1) persisting racial disparities and disproportionality in child welfare; (2) increasing number of families that posed low risk of safety being referred to child welfare systems; and (3) lack of flexibility in child welfare systems to meet the varied needs of referred families.  Differential response is one approach to help address these concerns in child welfare, an approach that includes a set of protocols that establishes at least two distinct responses for all families reported to child protective services, one traditional investigative track and the other, differential response track, which is a voluntary approach with families that sets aside forensic fault-finding.   Existing research on differential response indicates that this approach increases services for low-risk families, increases family engagement and family and worker satisfaction.  The author presents findings from one phase of a mixed methods study that explored several unanswered questions about the impact of differential response on racial equity and child safety outcomes.

 Methods:  Using statewide administrative data of Minnesota child welfare cases, the sample included all cases reported to child protective services from January 1, 2003 through December 31, 2010 (N=122,095).  Using logistic regression, the author examined the effect of race on pathway assignment to differential response or traditional investigation, while controlling for the following variables: poverty; risk level; family structure at time of report; Hispanic ethnicity; mandatory investigation; age of child at time of report; county participation in the FA pilot; urban-rural codes; and percentage of minority population in county.  Separate analyses were conducted for reports in each calendar year, in order to distinguish different effects over time, as this approach grew in Minnesota, from 27.8% in 2003 to 71.5% of all cases assigned to differential response in 2010. This analysis focused on outcomes for three historically over-represented groups in Minnesota, African American, Native American children, and Multi-racial children, which were compared to a reference group of Caucasian children.

 Results:  The results indicated some effects of race; however, these effects were generally small and not consistent over time, suggesting that even though the implementation of differential response in Minnesota has not been entirely equitable, when controlling for other key factors, the effects of race are moderated. Significant findings at the .05 level indicated that African American, Native American and Multiracial children were between .7 and .89 times less likely than Caucasian children to be assigned to differential response for 4 of the 8 years in the sample time frame.  However, there were no significant effects of race for the other 4 years in the study.  In 2010, African American children were 1.22 times more likely to be assigned to differential response. 

 Implications:  This study contributes to the understanding of the impact of differential response on racial equity outcomes at key decision-making points in the child welfare system.  The author discusses policy implications on using a racial equity lens to examine child welfare policies, and the importance of furthering this discussion to ensure equitable impact of policies on historically over-represented groups.