Synthesis of Research on Disproportionality in Child Welfare: An Update

Casey-CSSP Alliance for Racial Equity in the Child Welfare System, Robert B. Hill, Ph.D., Senior Researcher, Westat, October 2006.

The disproportionate representation of minority children in child welfare has been a major concern for decades. Th is paper summarizes current research findings on racial disproportionality (the number of minority children served versus the number occurring in the population) and disparities in treatment and services within the child welfare system, with a major focus on the differences between blacks and whites. This paper explores recent patterns involving child maltreatment and disproportionality, the role race plays at various decision-making stages in child welfare, the extent of racially disparate treatment in child welfare, and how other social systems contribute to disproportionality in child welfare.

Despite differences in the design and methodology of the studies under review, much consensus about disproportionality was revealed in this summary of the professional literature, especially among more recent studies. Most of the studies reviewed identified race as one of the primary determinants of decisions of child protective services at the stages of reporting, investigation, substantiation, placement, and exit from care. The only stage where no racial differences were identified was the stage of reentry into the child welfare system. Further research is necessary to extend our knowledge of the direct causes of disproportionality and disparate treatment, including tests of differing strategies to reduce this problem. The hope for this research is that it serves as a starting point in talking about race and its impact on our nation's most vulnerable children. As America continues the dialogue about race, we must make sure our voices are heard on behalf of these children, whom we've pledged to care for, no matter the color of their skin.