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Is the overrepresentation of the poor in child welfare caseloads due to bias or need?

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  • Jonson-Reid, Melissa
  • Drake, Brett
  • Kohl, Patricia L.

Abstract

One hanging question in child welfare policy and research is whether there is an artificial overrepresentation of the poor in child welfare caseloads or whether this reflects the co-occurrence of poverty and need. In order to address this question, this study uses data from child welfare (report, assessment, service and re-report), income maintenance, special education, hospitals, juvenile court, public mental health treatment, and census data. Poor children reported to child welfare are compared to non-poor children reported to child welfare and also to poor children not reported to child welfare. Poor children reported for maltreatment had greater risk factors at the parent and neighborhood levels and higher rates of negative outcomes than children in either comparison group. Among children reported for maltreatment, poor children have worse outcomes, both within child welfare (e.g., recurrence) and outside of child welfare (e.g. juvenile court, hospitalization for violence) than non-poor children. These data suggest that the overrepresentation of poor children is driven largely by the presence of increased risk among the poor children that come to the attention of child welfare rather than high levels of systemic class bias.

Suggested Citation

  • Jonson-Reid, Melissa & Drake, Brett & Kohl, Patricia L., 2009. "Is the overrepresentation of the poor in child welfare caseloads due to bias or need?," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 31(3), pages 422-427, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:cysrev:v:31:y:2009:i:3:p:422-427
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Fluke, John D. & Yuan, Ying-Ying T. & Hedderson, John & Curtis, Patrick A., 2003. "Disproportionate representation of race and ethnicity in child maltreatment: investigation and victimization," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 25(5-6), pages 359-373.
    2. Freisthler, Bridget, 2004. "A spatial analysis of social disorganization, alcohol access, and rates of child maltreatment in neighborhoods," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 26(9), pages 803-819, September.
    3. English, Diana J. & Marshall, David B. & Coghlan, Laura & Brummel, Sherry & Orme, Matthew, 2002. "Causes and Consequences of the Substantiation Decision in Washington State Child Protective Services," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 24(11), pages 817-851, November.
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    Cited by:

    1. Davidson-Arad, Bilha & Klein, Adva, 2011. "Comparative well being of Israeli youngsters in residential care with and without siblings," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 33(11), pages 2152-2159.
    2. Bywaters, Paul & Brady, Geraldine & Sparks, Tim & Bos, Elizabeth & Bunting, Lisa & Daniel, Brigid & Featherstone, Brid & Morris, Kate & Scourfield, Jonathan, 2015. "Exploring inequities in child welfare and child protection services: Explaining the ‘inverse intervention law’," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 57(C), pages 98-105.
    3. Lee, Madeline Y. & Jonson-Reid, Melissa, 2009. "Needs and outcomes for low income youth in special education: Variations by emotional disturbance diagnosis and child welfare contact," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 31(7), pages 722-731, July.
    4. Font, Sarah A. & Berger, Lawrence M. & Slack, Kristen S., 2012. "Examining racial disproportionality in child protective services case decisions," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 34(11), pages 2188-2200.
    5. Rolock, Nancy, 2011. "New methodology: Measuring racial or ethnic disparities in child welfare," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 33(9), pages 1531-1537, September.
    6. Clarke, Jennifer, 2011. "The challenges of child welfare involvement for Afro-Caribbean families in Toronto," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 33(2), pages 274-283, February.
    7. Putnam-Hornstein, Emily & Needell, Barbara, 2011. "Predictors of child protective service contact between birth and age five: An examination of California's 2002 birth cohort," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 33(11), pages 2400-2407.
    8. Snyder, Susan M. & Merritt, Darcey H., 2014. "Do childhood experiences of neglect affect delinquency among child welfare involved-youth?," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 46(C), pages 64-71.
    9. Millett, Lina & Lanier, Paul & Drake, Brett, 2011. "Are economic trends associated with child maltreatment? Preliminary results from the recent recession using state level data," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 33(7), pages 1280-1287, July.
    10. Putnam-Hornstein, Emily & Needell, Barbara, 2011. "Predictors of child protective service contact between birth and age five: An examination of California's 2002 birth cohort," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 33(8), pages 1337-1344, August.
    11. Hearn, Jody, 2011. "Unmet needs in addressing child neglect: Should we go back to the drawing board?," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 33(5), pages 715-722, May.
    12. Davidson-Arad, Bilha & Kaznelson, Hagith, 2010. "Comparison of parents' and social workers' assessments of the quality of life of children at risk," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 32(5), pages 711-719, May.
    13. Ben-David, Vered & Jonson-Reid, Melissa & Bright, Charlotte & Drake, Brett, 2016. "Family formation: A positive outcome for vulnerable young women?," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 67(C), pages 57-66.
    14. Debra A. Strong & Russell Cole & Angela V. D'Angelo & Juliette Henke, "undated". "2012 and 2014 Regional Partnership Grants to Increase the Well-Being of and to Improve the Permanency Outcomes for Children Affected by Substance Abuse: Third Annual Report to Congress," Mathematica Policy Research Reports 25fb6c26bc6a435fbfa9abfd8, Mathematica Policy Research.

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