Methods: Using anti-Black racism as its theoretical framework, this prospective-longitudinal cohort study design uses multilevel Cox proportional hazard regression to investigate the association between child welfare and juvenile justice involvement (i.e. crossover youth status). The cohort is based on child welfare records of 7592 children who were first referred for ongoing child welfare services between January 1st 2007 and December 31st 2017. Each child’s file was observed for juvenile justice involvement up to December 31st 2018 with observation periods ranging from 1 – 11 years. A total of 972 youth received services under juvenile justice.
Results: Black children were more likely than White children (RR =1.81; p < .001) to transition into the juvenile justice system. Risk factors such as age at the initial child welfare investigation, gender, language, and race significantly predicated transition into the juvenile justice system. Source of the child welfare report, sub-type of maltreatment (child behavioural problems), length of service involvement, and factors surrounding out-of-home placement also increased the risk of juvenile justice involvement. Immigration status (being born outside of Canada) decreased the risk of juvenile justice involvement. Racial disparity in service outcomes for youth within the juvenile justice cohort was also observed.
Conclusions: This study confirms the ongoing and pervasive nature of Black children’s disparity beyond the child welfare system into the youth criminal justice system. It urges that we adopt an approach that recognizes racial disparity as a form of racial profiling stemming from anti-Black racism. Social workers engaging in disparity research, must do so from a critical lens that aims to target the structures and systems that surround Black families rather than the families themselves.