Abstract: Community-Level Economic Indicators and Child Protection Decision Making (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Community-Level Economic Indicators and Child Protection Decision Making

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Valley of the Sun B, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Stacey Shipe, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, The Pennsylvania State University, PA
Christian Connell, PhD, Associate Professor, The Pennsylvania State University
Mayra Solis-Castanon, BA, Doctoral Student, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA
Background and Purpose: Research on disproportionality and disparity have primarily focused on the over-representation of individuals of racial or ethnic minority background within the system or of disparate treatment of these groups following a child protection services (CPS) referral. Research has shown that such disparity may be partially attributed to over-representation of non-White populations in areas marked by lower socioeconomic (SES) conditions, and the accompanying concentration of other potential risks associated with child maltreatment in such settings. Bias theory also suggests that disparate treatment for such groups may be attributable to other systematic bias in decision making for individuals from such backgrounds. This study investigates differences in decision-making points from the hotline report through to service acceptance for assessed or investigated cases in one county based on household SES conditions.

Methods: We used CPS records data from calendar year 2019 for a single large county in a mid-Atlantic state. These data included child-report level indicators of allegations and case decisions related to those allegations, as well as person-level address information. In the absence of family-level indicators of SES, household addresses were geocoded and linked to census tract, which was used to categorize communities based on SES quintiles (lowest 20% - highest 20%). To assess disproportionality and disparity, we calculated disparity indices (DI) and compared relative risks (RR) of CPS outcomes (e.g., screening-in report, substantiation) for each quintile compared to the lowest 20 percent group. We calculated DIs and RRs for SES Quintiles for: (a) Hotline Reporting, (b) Response Track and Screen-in, (c), Low Risk Response Validation, (d) CPS Substantiation, and (e) Accepted for Services.

Results: Reporting rates indicate disproportionate risk of contact among Low SES quintiles. The rate of youth reported to the hotline for the Low SES quintile was 211.6/1000 compared to 39.9/1000 for the Highest SES quintile. The DIs for quintiles also reflect significantly lower risk of reporting for each successively higher quintile relative to the low SES group. We observed disparity in decision-making points throughout the CPS response. Moderate-Low, Moderate-High, and High SES quintiles each were less likely to be screened-in for a low-risk assessment than the Low SES quintile (DIs ranged from 0.77 – 0.84). Both the Moderate Low and Moderate-High quintiles were less likely to be validated than the Low SES quintile. Rates of substantiation were lower for all groups, relative to the Low SES quintile. Finally, Medium, Moderate-High, and High SES quintiles were all significantly less likely to be accepted for services following an assessment or CPS investigation.

Conclusion and Implications: Most research on disproportionality and disparity has focused on race/ethnicity despite the ongoing debate of the influence of poverty on child welfare decision making. Using a standard measure of disproportionality and disparity in child welfare research, our study suggests that the perception and realities of Low SES can influence child and family outcomes, with less favorable options given to lower SES groups. Additional analyses are needed to determine if other variables further influence the results, including determining how race/ethnicity moderates these outcomes.