Examining racial disproportionality in child protective services case decisions
Using a national sample of 1461 child protective services (CPS) investigations in the United States, we examine differences between black and white families with regard to caseworker ratings of risk and harm to the child, as well as the probability that a case is substantiated for maltreatment. We employ difference-in-difference methods to identify whether gaps in outcomes for black and white families are equivalent when black and white CPS workers conduct the investigation, and Blinder–Oaxaca decomposition methods to identify the portion of the black–white difference in outcomes that is attributable to differences in case characteristics (risk factors) versus differences in associations between these characteristics and the outcomes by race (differential treatment). We find no differences in outcomes by child race after adjusting for case characteristics. At the same time, we find that, relative to white caseworkers, black caseworkers are more likely to rate black children at subjectively higher risk of harm than white children and are also more likely to substantiate black families for maltreatment. The decomposition results suggest that—even after accounting for caseworker race—differences in outcomes for black and white children are primarily explained by differences in family and case circumstances rather than differential treatment. Thus, our analyses suggest that interventions addressing maltreatment-related risk factors that disproportionately affect black families may have greater utility for reducing racial disparities in CPS involvement than current emphases on cultural competence training.
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