Abstract: Child Welfare Oversight, Parental Fears and Trauma Induced By Racial Disparities (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Child Welfare Oversight, Parental Fears and Trauma Induced By Racial Disparities

Friday, January 17, 2020
Independence BR H, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Darcey Merritt, PhD, Associate Professor, New York University, NY
Rachel Ludeke, MSW, Doctoral Student, New York University, NY
Background and Purpose:

Research seeks to advance scientific knowledge regarding the impact of race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status on parental fears/concerns on child rearing behavior, and the acquisition of knowledge with practical implications for social work.  This specific paper highlights parental perceptions of differential experiences regarding child welfare oversight based on one’s race/ethnicity.  Child rearing practices vary greatly based on parental fears stemming from environmental circumstances, available resources and deeply rooted, unjust social stratification norms.  There is great import in assessing the etiology of specific types of child maltreatment with consideration of cultural and community differences and socio-economic status.  This research explores parental fears among economically challenged minority parents as a function of involvement with child protective services oversight as they relate to parenting decisions.  The scope of work examines the perceptions of primarily Black and Latinx parents receiving child maltreatment preventive services in an effort to capture parental fears associated with this oversight.


The research design entails an exploratory approach utilizing data collected through in-depth interviews.  The methods aim to characterize parental perceptions of fears and system involvement experiences as they relate to child rearing practices.  A northeastern urban based agency contracted with an urban department of Children’s Services to provide to services to families at risk for child maltreatment granted approval to access families participating in their General Preventive Services.  Sample participants were selected through purposive, non-probability sampling techniques and recruited through agency outreach.  In-depth face-to-face semi-structured interviews lasting approximately 45-60 minutes were conducted with 17 parents.  The in-depth interview guide covered perceptions regarding: (1) parental fears and nuanced experiences with child welfare agency oversight; and (2) remedies to reduce or eliminate these fears related to maltreating parenting behavior.  The interview guide allows for an understanding of how parental fears in context impact child rearing practices as families interface with systems.  All interviews were digitally recorded and transcribed.  Employing a systematic grounded theory analysis, information garnered from the interviews were open and group coded, allowing for the identification of themes related to parental fears and concerns based on child welfare oversight.  Final themes were identified and assessed for nuanced commonalities.


Four subthemes emerged: 1) agency treatment; 2) child/parent relations; 3) community treatment and perception; and 4) financial disparities.  Findings indicated parents felt mistreated and unfairly judged by child welfare agency workers based on their race/ethnicity.  There was expressed trauma resulting from this oversight that negatively impacted the child/parent relationship and a salient sense of stigma regarding perceptions within the community.  Parents expressed feeling challenged and perceived as not good enough or capable of providing the experiences they felt their children deserved based on financial challenges.

 Conclusions and Implications: 

Interventions would be enhanced acknowledging parent perceived oversight disparities based on race/ethnicity.  These findings might create a shift in ways in which we support Black and Latinx parents, inclusive of eliminating inequities in oversight, with consideration of the impact of the lived experiences of minority populations involved with a child welfare system documented as disproportionately serving these groups.