Abstract: How State Child Maltreatment Policies Are Associated with Neglect-Only Child Maltreatment Reports, Substantiation of Those Reports, and Subsequent Entries into Foster Care (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

All in-person and virtual presentations are in Mountain Standard Time Zone (MST).

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.

638P How State Child Maltreatment Policies Are Associated with Neglect-Only Child Maltreatment Reports, Substantiation of Those Reports, and Subsequent Entries into Foster Care

Sunday, January 15, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Sharon Vandivere, MPP, Senior Research Scientist, Child Trends, Bethesda, MD
Rachel Rosenberg, PhD, Research Scientist, Child Trends, Bethesda, MD
Kristen Sepulveda, Research Scientist, Child Trends, MD
BACKGROUND: States do not define neglect as poverty per se, but most include circumstances related to financial resources in their definitions of neglect, including inadequate medical care (41 states), clothing (36 states), shelter (34 states), food (17 states), and/or hygiene (4 states). Most states (29) also define as neglect inadequate supervision, which can result from families’ inability to afford childcare. (Findings come from our analyses of data from the 2019 State Child Abuse and Neglect Database [SCAN]). If a family’s challenge is poverty, providing assistance and concrete supports would be a more appropriate response than having a family undergo a distressing maltreatment investigation, which can be traumatic, or—even more traumatic--a separation of the family and placement of children into foster care.

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.