Abstract: State Child Maltreatment Factors and Substantiation: The Role of Policy in Perpetuating Disparities (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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State Child Maltreatment Factors and Substantiation: The Role of Policy in Perpetuating Disparities

Friday, January 13, 2023
Ahwatukee A, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Catherine LaBrenz, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX
Philip Baiden, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX
Yeonwoo Kim, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Texas at Arlington, TX
Stacey Shipe, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, The Pennsylvania State University, PA
Tenesha Littleton, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL
Mijin Choi, PhD, Assistant Professor, Texas State University, San Marcos, TX
Rong Bai, MSSA/MNO, Doctoral Student, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH
Background and Purpose: Decades of research have drawn attention to racial disproportionality and disparities across decision-making points in child welfare. From the initial referral to substantiated cases, children of color are overrepresented in child protective services (CPS). Although experts have attributed disparities to implicit, interpersonal, institutional, and structural biases, few national studies have explored the relationship between state child maltreatment policies and subsequent disparities. This study aims to examine the relationship between state definitions of child maltreatment (educational neglect, harsh parenting/corporal punishment, and exposure to domestic violence), state responses to child maltreatment (alternative response, structural decision making), and the likelihood of substantiation. We also investigated whether these relationships varied across child race/ethnicity.

Methods: Data were obtained from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS; FY 2019) and the State Child Abuse and Neglect (SCAN) Policies Database. Our sample consisted of 3,007,298 children ages 0-17 who were referred to CPS in FY 2019 for alleged maltreatment. We merged state policies onto NCANDS data for characterizing state definitions of maltreatment and state responses to maltreatment and substantiation. We ran a series of multi-level logistic regression models that included interaction terms to determine if race/ethnicity moderated the relationship between state policies and substantiation.

Results: Across the U.S., 20.7% of children referred to CPS in FY 2019 had a substantiated case of maltreatment. There was no direct effect of state child maltreatment definitions on substantiation, but there were significant interaction terms for all definitions of maltreatment. Indeed, the relationship between state maltreatment definition of exposure to domestic violence and substantiation was stronger for Hispanic children (AOR=1.03, p<.001) and children of other races (AOR=1.04, p<.05) compared to White children. Similarly, the association between state child maltreatment definition that included educational neglect and substantiation was stronger for Black children (AOR=1.08, p<.001) and Hispanic children (AOR=1.06, p<.001) than White children. Finally, the relationship between state definition of maltreatment that included harsh punishment and substantiation was stronger for Black children (AOR=1.15, p<.001) than White children. State implementation of structured decision-making decreased the likelihood of substantiation (AOR=0.59, p<.05).

Conclusions: Our findings reveal that children of color may have increased odds of substantiated maltreatment when states include exposure to domestic violence, educational neglect, or harsh punishment in their definitions of maltreatment. It is possible that these categories reflect cultural differences and the over-surveillance of families of color in parenting, particularly related to discipline or educational practices. However, it is possible that the implementation of structured decision-making or other more standardized assessments may decrease the likelihood of substantiation. Future research should continue to explore these relationships.