Abstract: Commercial Sexual Exploitation, Child Characteristics and Child Welfare Decision-Making in California: A Statewide Case Study (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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SSWR 2023 Poster Gallery: as a registered in-person and virtual attendee, you have access to the virtual Poster Gallery which includes only the posters that elected to present virtually. The rest of the posters are presented in-person in the Poster/Exhibit Hall located in Phoenix A/B, 3rd floor. The access to the Poster Gallery will be available via the virtual conference platform the week of January 9. You will receive an email with instructions how to access the virtual conference platform.

Commercial Sexual Exploitation, Child Characteristics and Child Welfare Decision-Making in California: A Statewide Case Study

Friday, January 13, 2023
Hospitality 2 - Room 444, 4th Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Ivy Hammond, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of California Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
Joseph Magruder, PhD, Specialist, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
Background and Purpose: Nationwide, the child welfare system has assumed primary responsibility for responding to commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) of children. Existing research on CSE is often limited by the inability to distinguish between youth identified as having experienced CSE from those believed to be at-risk of CSE. Early experiences of sexual abuse and child welfare system-involvement are strongly associated with subsequent CSE risk and victimization, but relationships between child welfare interventions, case characteristics and subsequent CSE remain largely unexamined. This study uses California’s child welfare system (CWS) as a case study in order to (1) compare sociodemographic characteristics and system involvement of youth with CSE risk and victimization and (2) describe cumulative investigative, service and placement experiences prior to the identification of CSE risk or victimization.

Methods: Statewide administrative data for all youth with documented CSE risk or victimization identified by California’s child welfare system between 2015 and 2020 (N = 13,193). Pearson’s Chi-square test of independence was used to identify differences in the sociodemographic characteristics, case factors and place experiences among youth with documented CSE victimization (N = 2704) and those with only CSE risk (N=10,489).

Results: Among the full sample of youth with identified CSE risk or victimization experiences, nearly all had been reported to the CWS at least one month prior to the first identified CSE concern, yet less than half (43.42%) had prior cases and under one-third (32.11%) had previously been in out-of-home care. While only one-tenth of children (9.08%) were placed in congregate care at the time CSE risk or victimization was first identified, half of the full sample (5028%) had some congregate care placement history. Ethnic, racial and linguistic differences were observed between the risk-only and victimized groups, with Black children disproportionately represented as victims, while Latinx youth and non-English speaking youth overrepresented in the risk-only group. Children with identified victimization spent less of their overall lifetime in cases and about the same amount of their lives in placement, but experienced more placement moves and placement into medical, psychiatric or correctional facilities while under CWS supervision.

Conclusions and Implications: Results from this study may inform the development of culturally competent staff training and prevention strategies within child welfare practice settings. Additionally, this case study contributes to ongoing system change efforts by offering novel child welfare metrics that summarize lifetime system involvement and highlight key decision points that affect child safety and stability.