METHOD: This project explores the degree to which county- and state-level rates of neglect-only maltreatment reports (reports that do not include any types of maltreatment other than neglect), substantiated neglect-only reports, and entries into foster care in the 12 months following such reports vary depending on states’ policies related to neglect. We also examine the degree to which these associations vary for subgroups by race and Hispanic origin and by child age. Also, while we lack the data to calculate outcome rates for families below the poverty thresholds, we examine whether associations vary depending on the state- and county-level concentration of poverty. To carry out these analyses, we link data from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (maltreatment report data), the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (foster care entry data), the SCAN Database, and state- and county-level American Community Survey data.
RESULTS: In our initial analyses, we examined the state child poverty rate, as well as whether states include factors that could be related to income in their neglect definition, whether problems related to financial issues are excluded from the definition of maltreatment, whether neglect cases are eligible for alternative response, whether unsubstantiated cases are eligible for in-home services, and whether mandated reporting training is required for teachers. Preliminary findings indicate that, of these, the strongest predictor is alternative response, which is associated with lower rates of reports, substantiated reports, and foster care entries. The association seems to be stronger for White children than for Black children. Findings also indicate that average rates across states for neglect-only reports, neglect-only victims, and neglect-related foster care entries are twice as high for Black children than for White children, mirroring well-known racial disparities in child welfare.
IMPLICATIONS: Findings are particularly relevant in light of the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA), which provides funding for programs targeted at families with children at risk of entering foster care. Currently, the provision of concrete supports to families is not qualified under FFPSA, although research indicates that such supports can prevent maltreatment. However, alternative response may be an approach to prevent foster care entry when children come to the attention of child welfare services due to a family’s financial circumstances.