Session: Judgements, Inequalities, and Biases in Child Welfare Decision-Making (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

59 Judgements, Inequalities, and Biases in Child Welfare Decision-Making

Friday, January 14, 2022: 8:00 AM-9:30 AM
Independence BR C, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
Cluster: Child Welfare
Symposium Organizer:
Floor Middel, MSc., University of Groningen
John Fluke, PhD, University of Colorado
A wide collection of decisions are made by professionals working in the child welfare system, ranging from whether to start an investigation, to open a case for continuing services, to provide child protection measures, and to reunify a child with its birth family from an out-of-home placement. These decisions impact the lives of families and children. From a social justice perspective, child welfare decisions should be consistent: in similar child welfare cases, one would expect similar decisions. However, research over the past decades has shown that cases with identical case facts do not always result into different decisions. Factors at different levels of the Decision-Making Ecology (i.e., case level, worker level, organizational level, and external level) may impact decisions in the child welfare system. Families of marginalized ethnic and racial groups seem more likely to receive child protection interventions and have children removed from home compared to families of advantaged ethnic and racial groups. Further, different child protection workers may make different decisions in one child protection case and characteristics of professionals, like educational characteristics, may impact decision-making. This variability in decision-making may be associated with errors in decision-making, where families and children may not receive services they need (false negatives) or where families are over-surveilled by child welfare systems (false positives). We will examine research projects that have investigated professional judgement, inequalities, and biases in child welfare decision-making. In addition, we will discuss how these issues impact social justice for families who are involved with child welfare systems and will address potential solutions to improve decision-making. Barbara Fallon will present findings of the Ontario Incidence Study 2018, where she and her colleagues found that First Nation, Black, and Latin-American children have disparate child welfare involvement at various child welfare decision-making points. Next, Floor Middel will present findings of an experimental vignette study in which she aims to investigate whether ethnic/racial disparities in decision-making can be explained by stereotypes that child welfare professionals may hold. Then, Yanfeng Xu presents how factors of Chinese social workers (e.g., child welfare experience, having social work license) impact the assessment and reporting of physical abuse cases. Joel Gautschi presents findings of an experimental vignette study where he found that consistency concerning risk assessment and out-of-home placement recommendations among professionals was relatively low, in particular in ambiguous child protection cases. Lastly, Dana Hollinshead will present a study on intake decision-making, where it was found that risk adverse intake policies may lead to increased false positive rates. She will also discuss strategies that may decrease false positives.
* noted as presenting author
Racial Disparities in Investigations in Ontario
Barbara Fallon, PhD, University of Toronto; Henry Parada, PhD, Ryerson University; Brian King, PhD, University of Toronto; Joanne Filippelli, PhD, University of Toronto
Racial/Ethnic and Gender Disparities and the Role of Stereotypes in Child Protection Decision-Making
Floor Middel, MSc., University of Groningen; Mónica López López, PhD, University of Groningen; Hans Grietens, PhD, KU Leuven; John Fluke, PhD, University of Colorado
Understanding Factors Associated with Barefoot Social Workers' Decision-Making in Assessing and Reporting Child Physical Abuse in China
Yanfeng Xu, PhD, University of South Carolina; Ning He, MSW, New York University; Wei Lu, PhD, Xiamen University; John Fluke, PhD, University of Colorado
Child Welfare Triage: Use of Screening Threshold Analysis to Evaluate Intake Decision-Making
Aubrey Kearney, Indiana Department of Child Services; Dana Hollinshead, PhD, University of Colorado; Elisabeth Wilson, PhD, Indiana Department of Child Services; Michael Poletika, Indiana Department of Child Services; Heather Kestian, Indiana Department of Child Services; Terry Stigdon, Indiana Department of Child Services; Eric Miller, Indiana Department of Child Services; John Fluke, PhD, University of Colorado
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