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.