Abstract: (see Poster Gallery) Credit Freezes As a Protective Intervention for Children in Foster Care: Exploring Child Welfare Workers' Experiences with Implementation (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.

15P (see Poster Gallery) Credit Freezes As a Protective Intervention for Children in Foster Care: Exploring Child Welfare Workers' Experiences with Implementation

Thursday, January 12, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
John Gyourko, MSW, PhD Student, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Background and Purpose: Identity fraud, or the theft and misuse of a child’s personal data, poses serious risks and challenges for children in foster care. When children experience identity fraud, erroneous financial history and/or mismatched personal information appears in their consumer credit reports. Because credit reports are widely used to evaluate consumer applications for loans, housing, employment, and other critical goods and services, childhood fraud victimization may negatively impact well-being later in life.

In recognition of the potential adversities associated with child identity fraud, state law mandates credit security freezes, or credit freezes, for children in foster care in a mid-Atlantic state. Credit freezes, which block most third-party access to an individual’s consumer credit records, are generally considered to be an effective proactive intervention to reduce risk of child identity fraud.

Although roughly 1,000 foster children in the state are eligible for credit freezes each year, administrative data show that credit freezes are implemented for fewer than half of eligible children. No prior studies have explored the lived experiences of child welfare workers charged with implementing the credit freeze mandate. Addressing this knowledge gap, the present study leverages qualitative data to examine factors influencing credit freeze implementation.

Methods: In late 2021, public child welfare agency workers throughout a mid-Atlantic state were invited to respond to a questionnaire with open-ended items concerning the credit freeze mandate. Items asked about perceived barriers to implementation; perceived facilitators of implementation; and workers’ overall experiences with the mandate. Respondents (N = 53) were predominantly female (66%) and had been employed at their current agency for 1.9 years on average. Most respondents worked in urban localities (51%), while 32% and 17% worked in suburban and rural localities, respectively.

Given the exploratory aims of the present study, all respondents were included in the study sample. Content analysis methods were employed to identify patterns, themes, and meanings emerging from workers’ written responses to questionnaire items. This inductive approach grounds the investigation of implementation outcomes in data collected directly from the frontline workers tasked with implementing the credit freeze mandate.

Results: Frequently cited barriers to credit freeze implementation included (i) bureaucratic complexities of the national credit bureaus which handle consumer requests for credit freezes; (ii) workers’ struggles to effectively balance multiple competing demands on their time and attention; and (iii) long delays in communication between child welfare workers and credit bureaus. More than half of respondents reported that at least one of their attempts to initiate credit freezes for a given foster child had been rejected by credit bureau(s), often without an accompanying explanation. Frequently cited facilitators of implementation included training courses, technical assistance, and direct task assistance provided by co-workers and supervisors.

Conclusion and Implications: While conceptually appropriate as a protective measure to mitigate identity fraud risk, for many child welfare workers the credit freeze mandate is difficult to implement in practice. Additional training materials, supervisory supports, and clear direction from credit bureaus are needed to bolster frontline workers’ implementation efforts.