Abstract: What Kind of 'poverty' Predicts CPS Contact: Different Patterns within Racialized Groups (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

607P What Kind of 'poverty' Predicts CPS Contact: Different Patterns within Racialized Groups

Sunday, January 16, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Margaret Thomas, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
Jane Waldfogel, PhD, Compton Foundation Centennial Professor, Columbia University, New York, NY
Background and Purpose: Child protective service (CPS) contact is consistently linked with poverty in the US, but recent research suggests this association may differ substantially between racialized groups. Evidence about the different distributions of income poverty and material hardship also suggests that income poverty may not sufficiently capture economic wellbeing among families. This paper examines the associations of income poverty and material hardship with CPS contact, separately among white, Black, and Latin* families, to understand whether income poverty or material hardship is a stronger predictor of CPS contact and whether these associations differ between racialized groups.

Methods: We use data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS), an urban cohort representative of births in large US cities in 1998-2000. The FFCWS data are ideal for this study in capturing each of the key constructs: racialized group membership, income, material hardship, and CPS contact. We measure income poverty and material hardship at multiple time-points between children’s birth and age five and measure any CPS contact by age five. Our sample includes 2,102 Black, 1,179 Latin*, and 659 white children. We employ logistic regression to assess the associations between income poverty and material hardship, independently and jointly, and CPS contact. We conduct analyses separately among Black, Latin*, and white families.

Results: We find that income poverty is a significant predictor of CPS contact among white but not Black or Latin* children, while material hardship is a significant predictor of CPS contact among Black and Latin* but not white children. These patterns are more pronounced when we model the joint associations of income poverty and material hardship with CPS contact. Further, we find more than double odds of CPS contact among white families per time-point experiencing income poverty and more than double odds of CPS contact among Latin* families per time-point experiencing material hardship. By contrast, for Black families, the odds of CPS contact per time-point experiencing material hardship were about 1.4. Finally, we find that both economic wellbeing measures, along with family controls, help explain a substantial proportion of variation in CPS contact among white families (46%), a more moderate proportion among Latin* families (25%), and a smaller proportion among Black families (13%).

Conclusions and Implications: Taken together, our findings suggest that differences in economic wellbeing matter substantially in predicting CPS contact for white families, and to a lesser degree for Latin* families, while for Black families, economic wellbeing is not a substantial predictor, perhaps reflecting the profoundly racialized nature of CPS contact and the systemic ways in which Black families are regulated by CPS, regardless of economic wellbeing. Importantly, we also find no significant relationship between income poverty and CPS contact among either Black or Latin* families, while material hardship does have a significant impact on CPS contact among these families. These findings suggest the importance of examining non-income measures of economic wellbeing and offer clear opportunities for policy intervention to reduce material hardship in order to support child and family wellbeing and reduce racial inequities in CPS contact.