Disentangling Disproportionality in the Child Welfare System, Dr. Alan Dettlaff


Well, thanks. As Ellen said, my background is in the child welfare system. I worked in the Texas child welfare system um, for a number of years right after my undergraduate in social work, doing investigations for several years, and then I went on to supervise a unit of investigators. And then after I went back to get my PhD, at University of Texas in Arlington, right at that time, Texas had just passed a legislative reform bill, mandating reforms of their child welfare system. And part of that reform was to address disproportionality. Or first, to identify whether there was a problem with racial disproportionality in their system. And then if there was, to develop a plan to address it. So, I was really fortunate to be involved in the Texas system as they were first starting to look at this issue and develop plans to address it. Then in 2006, I’d moved to Illinois for a position with the Jane Adams College of Social Work. And right around that time, they were also starting to examine disproportionality much more closely. So, I was able to be involved in that state system as well, as they work on getting up from the ground up, um, doing some initial exploration into disproportionality. What were the factors contributing to disproportionality in their communities, and then developing plans to address it. So, I’ve been involved in work addressing disproportionality at the state level for almost going on ten years now. But I always remember when I was a child welfare caseworker in the late 90’s, I had never even heard of the term disproportionality, even though I later learned it has been identified and present in child welfare systems for, going on 40 years right now. But I think the national attention about disproportionality really didn’t reach a level where most of us who work in child welfare systems understood what it was. And just in recent years, the dialogue has really shifted about the way we talk about disproportionality in terms of what contributes to disproportionality, and the appropriate ways to go about intervening in places where disproportionality exists. So, today I’m going to talk about disproportionality from a historical perspective. Looking at race, poverty, and what both of those things mean to the over-representation of children of color in the child welfare system, from where we started when disproportionality was first identified to where we are now in our current thinking about it in the way that we think now we should be addressing disproportionality in disparities. Um, we have a pretty small group, so I’m happy to answer questions as we go along if there’s anything that doesn’t make sense, just raise your hand, and we’ll have time for questions at the
end as well. So, as I mentioned, racial disproportionality and disparities have been concerns in the child welfare for a long time. Going on 40 years, in the 1970’s was the first time that it was pointed out — that there was this over-representation of African-American children in the child welfare system. And the issue of disproportionality and disparities themselves as far as their presence, the existence of disproportionality and disparities, are not controversial at all. It’s well documented and well acknowledged that disproportionality and disparities exist in the child welfare system. And I’ll define specifically what those mean in a second, but they’ve been welldocumented for a number of years, so there’s no debate that they exist. Um, the issue has more to do with the
factors that contribute to disproportionality. What causes disproportionality that has led to some of the current controversy regarding this issue? Um, and that research really has to do with differential rates of maltreatment, differential exposure to risk among the racial groups, and how that — those differential rates of maltreatment and differential risk exposure contribute to over-representation. But understanding those factors that lead to the over-representation really are crucial to addressing disproportionality. Um, any efforts to address disproportionality cost the state financial resources, workload resources. So, it’s important that we really have a good understanding of what causes disproportionality, so we’re sure that our efforts and our resources are targeted at the real reasons that are causing them. So, today I’m going to talk — start with talking about identifying and defining disproportionality and disparities because the terms are very different but relate to each other. I’ll go through some of our early understandings of disproportionality and prevailing theories about disproportionality as the body of research developed. Then, I’ll talk about the national incident studies of child abuse and neglect and how those relate to our current — our former understandings of disproportionality and our current understanding of it. And then, really since 2009, how the dialogue about disproportionality has shifted. I’ll talk a little bit about poverty, maltreatment, racial bias, how all of those things interact, um, to create disproportionality. And then, where we are now, current and emerging understanding as well as some recommendations based on those current and emerging understandings to address disproportionality. So, I mentioned I want to start off just with some definitions. Because the terms throughout the history
of research on disproportionality have sometimes been used incorrectly in
the literature and they actually really do mean different things. But disproportionality just simply
refers to the state of being out of proportion. So, disproportionality describes the condition when the percent of persons in a certain racial or ethnic group in one population differs from that percentage of the same racial or ethnic group in a reference population, a base population. So, in child welfare, we often talk about disproportionality, and we talk about children in the child welfare system, which generally, in most of the literature refers to children in foster care, if you think of that as the child welfare population. So, in child welfare, disproportionality occurs when you have the proportion of one group of children in the child welfare population, foster care, that are either proportionately larger or proportionately smaller than in the general population. So disproportionality can actually be either over-represented or under-represented. But the way that we typically talk about it, is when we say a disproportionality, we’re generally thinking about over-representation. And this is, um, some statistics, um national data, from 2010. See, you could see here, African-Americans are the blue bar on the bottom and you can see in the child population in the U.S., African-Americans are about 14.5% of the population. And then if you go over here to the in-care population, African-Americans are about 28.8% of children in the foster care system, or in-care. So, you could see, that African-Americans
are over-represented in foster care compared to their percentage in the child population. Over here. Um, you can see white children are the green bar, population 55 quarts percent in care, 40%. So, you can see that white children are underrepresented. Same for Latino children here at the top there. About 20% in the child population, 18% in the foster care population. So, Latino children are slightly under-represented. It’s hard to see here, but the blue bar, um, the small blue bar right there, is Native American children. Native American children have historically been over-represented in the child welfare system, too. There are about 0.9% of the population, so right about 1%, and then there are 2% of children in care. So, Native Americans are actually over-represented in the child welfare system at a rate double their percentage in the population. But because their numbers are so small, they’ve received much less attention in that dialogue in the research about native — about children in care. [AUDIENCE] Um, I’m wondering what the removals versus in care of — I’m trying to figure out what the difference is. And I’m thinking of kinship, but even with that — like — like, that number doesn’t appropriate. So, I’m wondering, what is that difference? Yeah, removals is the number of kids, removals per year in 2010. So, new entries into foster care. Where as then exits, is the number African-American children exiting foster care in that year. The in-care population is the sum of all removals and all exits that are remaining in care that year. So, people in care in 2010 could’ve been removed in 2007. But, you’re — the population increases in foster care over time. And, as you can see, that exists are lower for African-Americans compared to some of the other races. So, as entries go up and exits are less, than you have this buildup of a population in care. So, that’s the U.S., and you could see the over-representation there. And then here’s Wisconsin in 2010 And these statistics are published in a really great publication that just came out from the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court judges. Where you could pull this data for every state. Um, for every racial group. But you could see here in Wisconsin in 2010, African-American children were 8.7% in the population, 35.6% of children in care. So, you can see that African-American children in Wisconsin are over-represented at a rate that’s far greater than their rate in the national population. Wisconsin has one of the highest rates of over-representation of African-American children and also have a very high rate of over-representation of Native American children. Just 1.1% of children in the population but, 4% — 4.1% of children in care. So, both African-American and Native American children are in foster care at a rate about four
times their representation in the population. And you may have heard of disproportionality ratios. So, just quickly to explain how we do that, a disproportionality ratio is just simply a ratio comparing children in care to children in the general population. So, these are the same Wisconsin numbers, 8.7% the population, 35.6% in care, and you see we take those numbers and divide the percent in care by the percent in the population and you get a ratio of 4.1. Just essentially again meaning that African-American children are represented in foster care at about four times their proportion in the general population. And then you could do the same thing for whites or for Hispanics, and you can see that the number is below 1.0, meaning that they’re under-represented compared to their representation in the general population. So, that’s what we mean when we talk about disproportionality. The important thing to keep in mind when you hear the term disproportionality or you hear the term over-representation, is that in and of itself, disproportionality can’t be defined as a problem without data supporting that, without data showing why disproportionality is occurring. Because in the child welfare system, as in any public social service system, the representation in the system should be based on need. Any child who’s in need of intervention by the child welfare system should receive services from the child welfare system. And nobody really knows the exact number of children that should be in foster care or shouldn’t be in foster care. There’s no magic number that says the amount or percentage of African-Americans that should be in foster care. Or the amount of white children that should be in foster care. You would expect that there would be some variation in the representation, because of societal factors, things like poverty, which we’ll talk about in a minute, um, but just — the system is based on need. And anyone who is in need of intervention should receive that intervention. So, there’s no magic number about what the right percentage is. Um, without data supporting that it is a problem. If we have data showing that, that over-representation is driven by biases, within the system, then you could define disproportionality as a problem resulting from racial bias. If you can say that the over-representation is a problem due to over-representation of African-American children living in poverty, then you can say that it is a problem because of poverty, and you know where to address your efforts. But just disproportionality in and of itself without data showing what’s causing disproportionality is not indicative of any specific problem. Disparity’s slightly different then, as a concept, where disproportionality refers to the state of being out of proportion, disparity refers to a state of being unequal. So, in the child welfare system, disparity’s typically used to describe inequitable treatment or inequitable outcomes experienced by one racial group, compared to another racial group. So, whereas disproportionality looks at the same racial group in foster care compared to the same racial group in the population, disparity compares one racial group, African-Americans, and the outcome that they experienced and they compare that to white children, to the outcomes that they experienced to see if those outcomes are the same or different. So, you could take, um, service decision, like removals, removals into care. And you could look at the rates that or the percentage of African-American children that enter care compared to the percentage of white children that enter care, and if that is different based on the base population of children investigated, then you could have a disparity, where African-American children are, um, removed at a greater rate than white children. So, disparities can occur at every decision making point, from hotline calls to acceptance of investigation, to substantiation of maltreatment, to entries into care, to exits from care. If you think about key decision points along most child welfare pathways here, you start with general population, then of those, you have some that are investigated for maltreatment some that aren’t. Of those that are investigated, you have some that are substantiated, some that aren’t. Typically, of those that are substantiated, although not always, you can remove kids that aren’t substantiated, but if you just think of it, kind of simply in a pattern, of those that are substantiated some are removed, some aren’t. And then, of those removed, some exit care and some remain in care. At any one of these places, you could have a disparity where African-Americans are more likely to experience one of these outcomes compared to another outcome. The important thing when you’re looking at disparities is the base population that we use. So, if we’re thinking about say, disparity in rates of substantiation. Um, so we can look at the percent of African-American substantiated and the percent of white children substantiated, but it’s important to look at the base population. Those investigated for maltreatment because those are the ones that have a possibility of receiving a substantiation determination for not. So, of kids who are investigated, you look at the substantiation for African-American, substantiation for whites, and if the substantiations for African-American children are much higher than substantiations for white children, given the children who were investigated, then you have what we call a disparity. And, as I mentioned, with disproportionality being well documented, disparities are well documented in the child welfare system in most states that have conducted these analyses, at the national level. The largest disparities usually occurs at the point of initial contact with the system, so hotline calls. African-American children are much more likely than white children to be reported to state child abuse hotlines. But then once that initial report is made, then subsequent decisions made within the child welfare system can either amplify or diminish that initial disparity. And all of the available research that, or most of the available research that we have shows that disparities exist at every subsequent level. So, African-American children are more likely than white children to be investigated for maltreatment, substantiated for maltreatment, removed from their homes and enter foster care. And then African-American children are less likely than white children to exit to reunification and spend longer time in foster care. And ultimately, how those two things relate is that disparities that occur in both entries and exits are what lead to disproportionality. So, as more children, as African-American chldren are more likely to enter care, and they’re less likely to exit, that’s where you get this buildup in the in care population that creates Um, okay. Similar to disproportionality though, disparities are not indicative of a problem, in the absence of data showing they’re a problem. We can’t say that disparity means bias. Um, or we can say that disparity means unequal treatment in the child welfare system. Unless we do analyses to find out what’s causing those disparities, but in and of themselves, we don’t know what disproportionality and disparities result from. Um, so I’m gonna talk now about, kind of, how we came to think about disproportionality over the years. As I mentioned, disproportionality was first brought to national attention in the early 1970s, in the publication of a book called Children of the Storm: Black Children in American Welfare, and that’s really looked at now, is this kind of seminal piece of literature where African-American children were first identified as being over-represented in the child welfare system. Prior to that some of you probably know from your social welfare history, African-American children were not involved in the child welfare system at all. The child welfare system was really set up to address the needs of immigrants, um, white children who are either homeless or living on the streets, um following really large, um, increases in immigration in the early 1900s. If you think about, like, the orphan trains in the New York Foundling Asylum, things like that, those were entirely set up to benefit white children. It wasn’t until the passage of the Civil Rights Act in the 1960s and then changes in migration patterns of African-Americans from the south to the north and from urban communities to rural communities, where we saw and increasing presence of African-Americans in the child welfare system. And by the 1970s, it began to be noticed that they were taking up a large part of the child welfare system. That the population of white children being helped by that system was shrinking and the population African-American children was rapidly increasing. Awareness of that kind of steadily increased throughout the 1980s and 1990s, but there didn’t seem to be any real national movement or energy around addressing disproportionality until about the 2000’s. Um, as I mentioned, when I was a child welfare worker, I had never even heard of the term disproportionality. African-American children were over-represented then, but people weren’t talking about it. I didn’t hear about it. I never heard the term. There were no efforts to address it. It was really the early, mid-2000’s where things started to change, and a big part of that came from the involvement of some national, charitable foundations. Particularly the Casey Foundations. Annie E. Casey and Casey Family Programs, which, um, spent a lot of investment and a lot of money working with certain states around the country to help them identify and address disproportionality. And I was in Texas at the time that that happened. In about 2002, 2003, Casey came into Texas and worked with the state to develop plans to address disproportionality. This was even prior to the legislative mandate being passed, which was in around 2005. So, Casey became very interested in this issue of disproportionality and spent a lot of investment and public awareness to raise people’s attention about disproportionality. And then that led to the mid 2000’s when several states, um, Texas being one of them, Washington State being another that passed legislative mandates actually written into their legislation, that the state was required to address this problem of disproportionality. So, as a national topic over the last ten years or so, disproportionality has really risen to a high level or priority in most child welfare systems that I’m familiar with. And, as far as early understandings go among most researchers, scholars, people that were looking at disproportionality, there’s always been an acknowledgement, understanding that these different levels of representation, over-representation of certain children, particularly of African-American families, can be caused by different levels of need. That African-American children may be vulnerable to certain risk factors because they’re more likely to live in poverty and as a result may be exposed to many of the risk factors that are associated with child maltreatment. I’m sure many of you know poverty is a very strong predictor of child maltreatment. Very close, or very highly related to maltreatment. So, the fact that African-American children are over-represented among children living in poverty would make sense that they may be then vulnerable, more vulnerable, to contact with child welfare systems. But despite that, um, acknowledgment or understanding among people who are writing about disproportionality, um, the reason for disproportionality occurring wasn’t so much the focus as where the outcomes of disproportionality. At that time, like early 2000’s, um, disproportionality was viewed as a problem because of what we knew about outcomes for children who spend time in foster care. And again, as many of you probably know, children who spend a lot of time in foster care, children who age out of foster care, experience very poor outcomes compared to children who don’t. And when you have a population of one, one racial group, who has the significant percentage who enter care, and then are exposed, or potentially exposed, to those negative outcomes, there’s a concern there about what it’s potentially do — what this over-representation is doing to that racial group. Um, Dorothy Roberts is a scholar who’s written a lot about disproportionality, has written a lot about this in her book called Shattered Bonds, which I would recommend as reading for all of you. And she talks about the negative outcomes that over-representation in the child welfare system has for African-American communities. How within African-American communities, everybody in those communities either has experienced a child being removed or knows someone who’s experienced a child being removed, and the kind of distrust and negative perception that that creates in those communities. As well as if you think about some of the negative outcomes that children in foster care are more likely to experience. Um, like involvement in the criminal justice system, higher rates of substance use, lower educational attainment. If African-American children are more likely to experience that because they are more likely to be placed in foster care, then you have this phenomenon where you’re seeing the continued kind of oppression of African-Americans as a result of the poor outcomes that they’re experiencing because of their foster care placement. So the emphasis in the early days of disproportionality wasn’t about what caused disproportionality. It was just about acknowledging that we have this imbalance in the racial groups here. We have this over-representation of African-American children. We know children in foster care experience these really poor outcomes. So, what can we do to address this? Um, but that changed at some point in the mid 2000’s. Primarily, as a result of the National Incidence Studies. As awareness throughout the 2000’s increased, the findings from those National Incidence Studies of child abuse and neglect were increasingly used to frame disproportionality as a problem resulting from racism or discrimination against African-American children. Um, some of you may be familiar with the NIS, um, but for those of you who aren’t, ah, just a quick background — the NIS is a federally contracted study that’s done at random intervals contracted by the federal government by the Department of Health and Human Services. And the purpose of the NIS is to identify the actual prevalence of maltreatment in the United States. And they talk about actual rates of maltreatment compared to official rates of maltreatment. Official rates of maltreatment are maltreatment that’s substantiated by child welfare agencies. So, if you were to go to the Children’s Bureau website and look at their child maltreatment data book, you can find the official rate of maltreatment in there because it’s based on all of the states reporting to a federal system their substantiated cases. So, that’s the official rates of maltreatment. The NIS tries to identify the actual rates of maltreatment. So, beyond just cases substantiated by child welfare agencies, they have what they call community sentinels that are charged with identifying, um, children who have experienced some form of maltreatment. So, that can be physicians, clinics, community service agencies, mental health service providers. And they sample counties around the country to try and estimate, uh, prevalence of maltreatment around the country. And, as far as most people believe, the National Incidence Studies are the best estimate that we have of the actual rates of maltreatment, at — from a national view. And parts of 2010, the National Incidence Studies have been conducted on three occasions. The first NIS was released in 1980. Um, the second NIS was released in 1980, or — I’m sorry, the NIS was released in 1986. NIS 2, 1986. NIS 3 — NIS 3, 1993. So, in the mid-2000s, the most recent NIS data that we had was from 1993. So, it was already about 10 years old, but again, it was viewed as the best data that we had about actual rates of maltreatment. And the important thing about the NIS is that in every prior version of those National Incidence Studies, they had consistently found no significant differences in the rates of maltreatment between the racial groups. So, no difference between the rates of maltreatment in African-American families and rates of maltreatment in white families or any other races. So, this is a quote from the third version of the National Incidence Study, the report that was released. It says, “No significant or marginal racial differences in the incidence of maltreatment were found either within the NIS 3 data or in the comparison of changes since the NIS 2. This was true for both the Harm Standard and the Endangerment Standard findings.” NIS 2 uses two standards, the Harm Standard has a higher criteria to reach to be classified within that as being maltreated. Um, but the idea here is that there’s no differences in maltreatment. And then they go on to say, “The NIS finding suggests that the different races receive differential attention somewhere during the process of referral, investigation, and service allocation, and that the differential representation of minorities in the child welfare population does not derive from inherent differences in the rates at which they are abused or neglected. So, it’s the NIS, in their report that’s actually pointing out the idea of differential attention, right there in the report. Pointing out one, any observed over-representation is likely the result of differential attention, and then specifically saying it is not the result of inherent differences among the racial groups at the rate in which children are maltreated. So, once that idea from the NIS kinda was more disseminated, — disseminated widely to the larger research and practice community, people really started to look at that and then compare that to what was actually happening in child welfare systems. So, you had a number of studies that came out in the late 1990s, early 2000s. Um, these quotes here are based on a study that was done by Thomas Mortin in 1999. He was one of the first vocal proponents about, um, disproportionality being a problem of racial bias. He looked at, just simply looked at, incans[?] data. Um, rates of maltreatment compared to census data, children in the population. And for the 40 states that he could get data, he was able to show that African-American are substantiated at a rate much higher than their percentage in the population. Usually at a rate more than double their percentage in the population. But then he took that, and he looked at what the NIS said about maltreatment rates, and this is what he said here, “All three National Incidence Studies conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services concluded that there are no significant or marginal differences in the incidence of child maltreatment based on race. Since incidence is measured in rates per thousand, this means that all groups should be represented in the child welfare system consistent with their proportion of the population as a whole. If not, than a basis for the presumption of bias exists. And then, he went on to say, “If proportional representation does not exist, a strong argument is created for the existence of differential treatment by race.” So, he was one of the first people to expand on the NIS findings and really say that what we have happening here in child welfare systems must be a problem with racial bias. We have children substantiated for maltreatment at a rate more than double their percent in the population, but we have all of the best available evidence that African-American children are no more likely to abuse their children than other children. So, if they’re no more likely to abuse their children than anyone else, how can they be over-represented in the child welfare system, The Sentinels themselves? I — you know — I don’t know if the racial breakdown of sentinels are — are reported. I know there’s a lot written about the methods of the National Incidence Studies, and I’m not an expert about them. I know in the NIS they feel there — there’s been some criticism of methods of the NIS in the prior versions, and I’ll talk about those in a second. Um, they feel very strongly that — about their methods, that they’re educationing and training the Sentinels to identify maltreatment appropriately. I think anytime that you have a human identifying maltreatment, there is still the potential of bias, whether it’s a community sentinel or someone within the child welfare system. But, the purpose of the NIS is try to move — try to detect maltreatment that doesn’t get reported to child welfare systems — with the acknowledgement that not every not all maltreatment actually gets reported, so they try to have a bigger — bigger view than that. So, okay. So, you had th — you had these NIS findings, and you had, um, people starting to question this, or identify this problem of racial bias. And then because of the national attention that it was getting as a result of the Casey involvement, other foundations’ involvement, you had a rapid increase in the body of research And you had several people who were putting out theories based on those various studies about what was causing disproportionality. So, I want to just go over two of them to give you a sense of where people were at, um, in terms of thinking about what causes disproportionality. And Rick Barth, many of you are probably familiar with his writings, he is now the Dean at the School of Social Work at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. um, after a review of the literature, that disproportionality was caused by these 4 things. One, differential need resulting from differential risk. Although he specifically acknowledged that that idea is not consistent with what the NIS found. Two, racial bias that affects decision making in child welfare agencies, consistent with what other people are saying. Three, placement dynamics, including the increasing use of kinship care, which may result in longer lengths of stay, particularly for African-American families, and at this time early to mid 2000, we were seeing a really rapid increase in use of kinship care as a placement alternative. which are those 3 factors interacting together. So, differential need, racial bias, and these placement dynamics. You also have the Government Accountability Office in 2007, um, a federal agency do pretty extensive research report where they went to states, interviewed child welfare workers, child welfare directors, people in communities. And they put together a summary of the reasons why they think disproportionality is occurring. And they identify three things. High rates of poverty among black families and the resulting risks, bias and cultural misunderstandings in child welfare systems, and three, longer stays in foster care due to difficulty in recruiting adoptive parents, and the greater reliance on kinship care in cases with black children. So, you could see that those are pretty closely similar. Differential risk, mostly because of differential rates in poverty. Some bias in the system, and then something happening on the back end. Um, the GAO talked about difficulty recruiting adoptive parents, and they both talked about the increasing reliance of kinship care and the tendency for people to stay in kinship care longer in the lower likelihood of reunification when you’re in kinship care. So, there was acknowledgement here that disproportionality is a complex phenomenon that’s caused by multiple things. But, in much of the the practice community, this idea of racial bias still consumed much of the dialogue. You can see here in this first quote from Casey Family Programs, two page policy brief around the mid 2000’s about disproportionality. That just said, “The existence of racial disproportionality with no acknowledgement of any other potential contributors of disproportionality.'” Just saying, disproportionality equals child welfare system not treating children equitably. Than there was on this next quote here comes from a special issue of the Child Welfare Journal, which is put up by the Child Welfare League of America. the author, Terry Cross, wrote, “The real culprit appears to be our own desire to do good and to protect children from perceived threats and our unwillingness to come to terms with our own fears, deeply ingrained prejudices and dangerous ignorance of those who are different from us. These factors cumulatively add up to an unintended race or culture bias that pervades the field and exponentially compounds the problem of disporportionality at every decision point in the system.” So, you could see here, again, the emphasis is on racial bias, without a lot of acknowledgement of these potential other contributing factors. And you could also see that if you were to look at the interventions that were happening in the states around that time, around the mid to late 2000’s. In Texas I mentioned I was very fortunate to be part of their work, and after their legislative mandate, Texas made, as the cornerstone that they put all of their caseworkers, frontline staff, supervisors, managers, administrators, community partners, through a training called Undoing Racism. That training was provided to over 2,000 people around the state, staff and external stakeholders by 2010. Um, Undoing Racism is a training that’s put on by the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. It’s a three day training that looks at kind of the history of racism, helps — or, tries to encourage people to identify their own biases, the way that they contribute to racism in society, and how to act against racism. But what Texas was essentially saying here, as the cornerstone of their efforts to address disproportionaity, they were implicitly saying that they have a problem with racism in their system because their main initiative was to put all of their staff through an Undoing Racism training. Um, and then at least seven other states at around the mid 2000’s, California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Washington, all had either Undoing Racism which is a training that was developed by Casey Family Programs about racial and ethnic identity as key elements of their overall strategies to address disproportionality. So, in both much of the literature and in the practice community, the emphasis was on racial bias as the contributor to disproportionality, and the interventions, where states were investing their time and money weren’t addressing this problem of racial bias. If you think just from a financial sup — um, standpoint, of the resources that were put in, the Undoing Racism costs between 10 and 15 thousand dollars per workshop. And, each workshop can hold up to about 40 people. So, in Texas, over a period of about two to three years, they put 2,000 people through this workshop, all funded by Casey Family Programs, at a rate of around $15,000 per 40 people. So, that’s hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars that were invested into the child welfare system to train people on Undoing Racism. And I’ve participated in Undiong Racism several times and it’s an incredibly valuable training, but just to give the idea of the amount of money that went into that, um, and really that was the only place that the money was going, and that’s what led to some of the criticisms that are going to come. Did you have a question? No? Ok. So, as I mentioned, that led to some of the critiques to address disproportionality. At this time, so, we’re at about 2008, 2009, people who were researching disproportionality myself included, in every other article that I wrote, if you look at some of the articles that I wrote in, like 2006, 2007, it starts off with African-American children are over-represented in the child welfare system. Evidence from the National Incidence Studies say that there’s no differences in rates of maltreatment, therefore, disproportionality is a problem that we need to address. Um, that all changed in 2009, beginning with the publication of a paper entitled, The Racial Disproportionality Movement in Child Welfare: False Facts and Dangerous Directions. Elizabeth Bartholet is a Harvard Law professor and this paper was published in the Arizona Law Review. And, in this paper Elizabeth Bartholet first, really kind of, condescendingly, identified people who are addressing disproportionality as part of a movement. And then she said that all of those people addressing disproportionality are wrong or are spending their efforts in the wrong place because African-American children are over-represented in the child welfare system because they are, in fact, maltreated at a higher rate than other children, and therefore, they should be over-represented in the child welfare system. And in doing in her paper, she presented multiple critiques of those National Incidence Studies. um, 10, 15 pages of her paper, which is about a 50 to 60 page paper, are devoted to critiques of the National Incidence Studies. And they weren’t original critiques. These were critiques that were actually in the literature since the publication of the National Incidence Studies. Even some by the authors, the researchers of the NIS themselves, but they really had it made it to the general consciousness, you know. Like, a lot of research studies, they kinda state in these fancy academic journals, that only other academics read who are never actually having any contact with child welfare systems or kids, and the idea of problems with the NIS really never got down to the practice commuinty until the publication of the Bartholet article, involved in disproportionality who was unfamiliar with this document. And she essentially stated that these NIS critiques and this idea that there’s no differences in the rates of maltreatment has been effectively debunked for years now. But yet, the people in this movement are clinging to this false data in order to gain some sense of personal satisfaction, or political correctness to help um, reduce the number of black children that were in the child welfare system. And she then, drew upon lots of studies that looked at risk factors, poverty, um single parenting, concentrated poverty, and high crime in communities to show that there’s all of this evidence that shows that African-American children are exposed to all of this greater risk resulting from poverty, substance use, single-parent homes, high-crime communities. Of course they’re going to, and all of those risk factors are associated with maltreatment. Why would it be hard to believe or accept, that they don’t have higher rates of maltreatment? She wasn’t saying this was anything inherent in African-American parenting skills, or in African-American families, just there’s this incredibly great risk exposure so, then you’re going to expect high rates of maltreatment, and if there’s higher rates of maltreatment and you’re going to see higher rates of children in foster care. But, I think even more difficult for some people in the child welfare system to um, take in, was that she really said that this emphasis on addressing racial bias in the child welfare system was actually harming black children, and what she said is, “Focus on the claimed racism of child welfare workers puts attention on a non-problem, while ignoring the real problems of the black community — the societal legacy of racial injustice and the miserable socio-economic conditions that characterize too many black lives.” And then, she went on to say, “If black children are in fact subject to serious maltreatment by their parents at higher rates than white children, it is in their interest to be removed at higher rates than white children. If the child welfare system is wrongfully found discriminatory, and as a result, stops removing black children at serious risk for ongoing maltreatment, the children will suffer immediate and dangerous consequences.” So, what she was saying is that, if child welfare systems only focus on this idea of racial bias, and if the goal of child welfare systems is to reduce the number of African-American children in-care because we think we have this problem of over-representation, then what’s ultimately going to happen is caseworkers are going to be leaving unsafe children, unsafe African-American children, in their homes in order to bring these numbers down. And I actually saw some of what Bartholet suggests in my work in Texas. Um, because you could imagine, a big statewide effort like this is really hard to deliver kind to your front line staff and explain what this is. Um, but first, some of the things — the first thing that Texas did was they made all of their workers go to this Undoing Racism training So, at the front-line level, how do you think that was perceived? You had people that were caseworkers going about doing their business, who all of a sudden said, ok, well now the state says we have this problem with disproportionality, and I need to go to Undoing Racism training. So, there was this problem among the workforce where they all thought they were being called racist, that the caseworkers had a problem that they needed to go to training to address. But then, you would also see in some parts of the state where there was less communication about what disproportionality was really about. If you would go to a worker, I went to Texas about five years after they started doing their work and asked people, how would you describe the Texas initiative to address disproportionality? What are you supposed to do to address disproportionality? And their response, We need to not remove as many black children. And that’s not what efforts to address disroportionality are supposed to be about, but that’s how it can be interpreted, and that’s what Bartholet was saying it will be interpreted, if this emphasis on racial bias, if all of the blame is placed on caseworkers, they’re biases, they’re racist when they make decisions, then caseworkers are going to question their decision making when they’re working with African-American families, and then you could potentially result in children being left in unsafe situations because Texas is actually mandated to reduce their percentage of African-American children and care. It’s written into the Texas Legislature. Um, but you could imagine in 2009, those claims from Bartholet were initially met with resistance, from people like me, other people addressing disproportionality because we had these NIS findings. And I mean, they were — these NIS findings were built up to be, you know, just the greatest source of data, ever. And even the critiques, even if you read, like, Rick Barth’s paper in 2005, where he’s kind of critical of some of the efforts, he still contends, NIS is the best data that we have available. It has some problems, but it’s the best data that we have available. Um, so, many of us were still saying, well, Elizabeth Bartholet can write whatever she wants about disproportionality, but the NIS says, there’s no differences in maltreatment. Um, but that really all changed. About six months later in 2010, we all knew that the NIS 4 was coming, the data for the NIS 4 had actually been collected in about 2005, 2006, but the report kept getting held up and delayed and delayed, and it didn’t come out until 2010. And in 2010, the NIS 4 results were released, and for the first time, the NIS found that there were significant differences in rates of maltreatment and that African-American children were significantly more likely to maltreat their children than children of other races. So, it confirmed much of what Elizabeth Bartholet suggested. The results of the NIS specifically found that African-American children experience significantly higher rates of overall maltreatment, overall abuse, physical abuse, and serious harm resulting form their maltreatment, under both this harm and endangerment standard. And then, the authors knew that this was going to be a surprise for some because it was not consistent with the prior versions of the NIS, so they conducted some supplementary analyses to explain these, and they explained those differences being noted for the first time. First and primarily, as the result of greater precision of their estimates. Um, the NIS 4 sample was about double the size of the NIS3 sample, so they had a much larger sample, as well as an increased gap in income between African-American and white families since the time of the NIS 3. So, between 1993 and 2005, white families on average got richer, black families on average got poorer, and because of the high association between poverty and maltreatment, you saw more black children being maltreated. Overall, the NIS found a decline in maltreatment, and that’s consistent with um, substantiated reports of maltreatment. Most states and systems are experiencing declines in overall rates of maltreatment, but what the NIS found is that those differences weren’t consistent across racial groups, rather, white children either decreased more or increased less in most of these maltreatment categories compared to — compared to black children. Where the rates for black children stayed pretty consistent from the time of the of the NIS 3. So, for the first time here, now we have data. And again, these NIS data are the best data that we have available to us about actual rates of maltreatment saying that African-American children are abused more than white children. Just shortly after that, Brett Drake, who is a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, published a paper looking at these NIS 4 findings and comparing it to the prior NIS studies. And, he also was very critical of the design of those prior NIS studies, but what he wanted to point out here, what was previously not really in the public consciousness, is that differences between the racial groups has actuallly always exist — existed. He pointed out in his paper. You can see here, the black bar along the top and those point at the NIS 2, NIS 3, and NIS 4 are black children. Um, rates of maltreatment per thousand per 1,000 children for black children. And then the red bars, and those points are rates of maltreatment per 1,000 children for white children. So, you could see here at the NIS 2, black children, um there was higher rates of maltreatment than white children. At the NIS 3, higher rates of maltreatment for black children than white children. And again in the NIS 4. higher rates for black children than for white children. But what you see here, those bars, the black bar and the red bar, are the confidence intervals that are used to determine statistical significance. And because of the small sample size and large standard errors in NIS 2 and NIS 3, what you had is very large confidence intervals. And, when those confidence intervals overlapped, as they did in NIS 2 and NIS 3, you can’t say that there’s a statistically significant difference between the two racial groups because where the actual rate could be, rather than the estimated rate, could be somewhere where they’re overlapping, which would mean no difference. But, Brett Drake argues that that’s more of a function of a design problem because of the small sample size in these big standard errors and for the first time in the NIS 4, those bars don’t cross, and you have statistical significance. But what he really argues, is that the failure to achieve statistical significance in these prior versions of the NIS, is not evidence that there wasn’t a difference there. Even though, that’s how it was interpreted in all of the ratings. No differences in rates of maltreatment, no differences in rates of maltreatment. That may not be true. The study just couldn’t achieve statistically, statistical significance in those differences there. So, it could be that there has always been a difference in rates of maltreatment between the racial groups. So, you could imagine that’s um, the combination of the Bartholet article and the new NIS findings really kind of threw up in the air, um, states who were addressing child welfare, um, disproportionality, and putting all of their money into Undoing Racism training, um researchers like me who were kinda focused on this idea of racial bias and identifying and understanding it in child welfare systems because now, for the first time, you have this issue where maybe there is supposed to be over-representation. If African-American children are maltreated at higher rates, then there probably should be some level of over-representation. So, is disproportionality still a problem? What does that mean? Are we still supposed to do something about it? Does racial bias still exist in the child welfare system, or did we just incorrectly think that was happening all of the time? So, that’s kind of — when that happened, that’s kind of when my attention turned to really trying to understand what really is going on here with poverty, maltreatment, and racial bias. As I mentioned, and probably most of you know, um, poverty doesn’t cause maltreatment. But there’s lots and lots of data, an entire body of data, that shows that maltreatment occurs disproportionately among poor families. The NIS data itself, the NIS 4 data, show that children in the lowest socioeconomic category experience maltreatment at a rate five times that of other children. So, this lowest income group is at very, very high risk of experiencing maltreatment. And as I mentioned before, African-American children are more likely to um, live in poverty. More than twice as likely as white families, and they spend longer periods of time in poverty and have the lowest exit rate from poverty among all racial groups. So, this idea of poverty and disproportionality resulting from differences in poverty being the driving factor really started to take hold in the narrative about disproportionality. And then that was kind of further emphasized by another study by Brett Drake that was published in the Journal of Pediatrics in 2011, just last year. Um, and this article also got a lot of attention. Pediatrics is, obviously, a very well respected journal, um and this journal article got a lot of attention um, particularly because it had a really catchy title, that was something like, Racial Bias in Child Protection — question mark. Um, Study Finds Evidence Shows No Racial Bias Exists. Um, and what Brett did is he looked at national data, national rates of maltreatment according to INCANS[?], the federally collected data, and then he looked at other public health outcomes. So, things like infant mortality, low birth weight, and premature birth. And he calculated — he calls an article Disproportionality Ratios, but they’re actually disparity ratios ’cause they’re par– comparing African-Americans to white children. So, he calculated these disparity ratios looking at that incidence of all of these outcomes: child maltreatment, infant mortality, low birth weight, and premature birth. Comparing African-Americans to whites. And his the theory here, or his hypothesis, is that all of these poor outcomes result from essentially, the same risk factors, and he used poverty as a proxy for all risk because in — with the idea that most other risks derive from poverty. So, all of these negative outcomes result from poverty: infant mortality, low birth weight, premature birth, child maltreatment, they’re all associated with poverty. The difference between infant mortality, low birth weight, premature birth and child treatment is that those are pretty objective measures. There’s no bias that enters into a decision about infant mortality rates, right? There’s infant mortality and there’s not infant mortality. Um, there’s premature births and there’s not premature births. So, we know an actual unbiased number of how often that occurs. Child maltreatment is the one thing of those where there can be some bias because there’s a person deciding what’s maltreatment? What reaches the level of substantiation and what doesn’t. So, he’s acknowledging there is the potential for bias to exist here in the identification of child maltreatment. So, his idea is, if all of these things result from poverty, if only one of them is subject to bias, then you’re going to see a much higher disparity rate for the child maltreatment statistic than you are for these other statistics. You’re going to suspect that infant mortality, low birth weight, premature birth, that there’s a disparity between African-Americans and whites because of differences in poverty, but child maltreatment is going to have an even greater disparity because you not only have this effect of poverty, but you have this effect the bias, so you’re gonna have an even higher disparity ratio. But, what he found is that that wasn’t the case. You can see his — the poverty ratio between African-Americans and whites was 2.87, meaning that African-Americans are about three times more likely to live in poverty than white families. All of those other health outcomes, infant mortality, low birth weight, premature birth, had disparity ratios between 1.79 and 2.97. Basically meaning African-Americans were about two to three times more likely to experience one of those. And then, maltreatment, the disparity ratios is 1.84. So, again, at the low end of disparity between African-American and white families. So, what he is — what he says then, his conclusions are, this shows that there’s no bias in the identification of maltreatment because there’s no higher incidence of maltreatment, or no higher disparity in maltreatment rates between maltreatment and any of these other poor outcomes that African-Americans experience. African-Americans are at greater risk because of poverty of experiencing poor health outcomes. Infant mortality, low birth weight, premature birth, child maltreatment, all of those. And there’s no racial bias that’s inflating that maltreatment number. And that received a lot of attention. Um, particularly this last quote was used by a lot of people. “These findings suggest that racial bias in reporting and the in the child welfare system are not large-scale drivers of racial disproportionality.” I always had a problem with that quote. Um, because all this study does is look at the very, very front end. Children identified as maltreated. And Brett is saying here, that because he found no evidence of racial bias there, that racial bias doesn’t cause disproportionality. What I’ve argued since then, and what the work I’ve tried to do since then is look at, is — it really doesn’t matter rates of maltreatment, or how children find themselves in contact with the child welfare system. It’s what happens to children once they come in contact to the child welfare system where bias can enter the decision making process. Once children are not treated once they find their way into the system, then what happens to them? and then, is there bias in the decision making process that contributes to them being over-represented in the system? But as I mentioned, the combination of these things, Bartholet, NIS 4, and the Drake articles have really shifted the dialogue where we’re at right now on disproportionality. Um, these responses have said, we need to move away, reevaluate our efforts to focus our energy in anti-racism, cultural competency training because there’s no evidence showing that racial bias is a problem in the child welfare system. Rather, they’re saying efforts need to be targeted in poor, African-American communities on prevention programs. If we know that there’s higher rates of maltreatment in African-American communities, then we need to be investing in those communities and providing prevention programs to reduce the prevalence of maltreatment, and that’s what’s going to reduce over-representation. And that makes sense. My idea is that it needs to be both. That we need to be looking at prevention and we also need to be looking at racial bias in the system. I have some, um, concerns when I hear people say there is no racial bias in the child welfare system. Just, if you think — you guys are social workers, you have some familiarity with the history of racism in society, and institutional racism in our social welfare systems. You know that there’s a huge problem with racism in our criminal justice system. There’s studies upon studies that actually show race bias in sentencing, in capital punishment, in stays in lengths of prison sentences. We have huge racial problems in the juvenile justice system. We have racial problems in the special education system, um, with disciplinary referrals in the education system. And so, the idea that the child welfare system is somehow immune to all of the problems that our country has with race and racial biases and stereotypes makes absolutely no sense to me, at all, that we could say that there’s no problem of racial bias in the child welfare system, and nobody’s making decisions um, influences by bias or stereotypes. So, the work that I have done, since then, has tried to look at this more critically and respond to some of these critiques. So, poverty, maltreatment, and racial bias. What do we really know about these things? One of the limitations of the large body of research that we have right now, is that there’s been many studies that have looked at these disparities and have attempted to isolate the effect of race on these decision points, and you could do that, statistically, by putting in all of these different factors in time trying to control or hold constant for certain factors to see how much of this disparity is caused by race. Some of these studies have found that race is a significant factor that’s associated, say, with the disparity in entry rates. Some studies have found that race controlling for other factors is a significant predictor of foster care entry. Some studies have found that when you control for these other factors that race isn’t. That what looks on the surface like race is a problem, when you control for all these other things, race really kind of washes out and it isn’t a problem. But, if you look at all of those studies, nearly, all of them fail to include measures of income in those calculations. And given what we know, now, or what we have known, and what we particularly know now, about the importance of understanding poverty, as it relates to disproportionality, you really can’t say anything about the effect of race on a disparity or on disproportionality, if you’re not trying to control for the effects of poverty to see how much of this disparity is caused by poverty and differential risk and how much is actually caused by some type of racial bias. So, I was involved in a number of studies in the Texas child welfare system, that were the result of their legislative mandate. They were really interested in, um, looking at where disparities exist along this service pathway. They had a great director of research at the time, Don Bauman, who was a social psychologist and was really invested in research in the system. And they had just a phenomenal state director, Joyce James, who’s been one of kind of the leading national directors in efforts to address disproportionality. They were really supportive of research in the system, so we had access to everything we wanted in their system. And Texas is one of the few states that collects data on income, from every family that comes into the system. Most states don’t collect that data. So this type of analysis isn’t always popular in ever — possible in every state, where as it was in Texas. So, we looked at all of the cases that were reported to the child welfare agency between 2003 and 2005. So, this was the pre-mandated reform period because we wanted to look at the data before people started trying to do something to address disproportionality. And we looked at two decision points. We looked at the substantiation decision, maltreated or not maltreated. And then we looked at the service’s removal decision. And we looked at two components of that decision. One, was this family in need of some type of intervention? Verses closing the case altogether. So, of the substantiated cases, where there was maltreatment, did they need some intervention, meaning opening the case for something versus closed. Then, the second part, of the ones that needed to be opened for something, were those children removed? Or did they receive services in their home? In Texas, they call that family based safety services, but it’s essentially in-home family preservation services. So, we wanted to see were their disparities in these decision points. So, the variables that we used to look at this, really quickly, this is the categories that Texas uses. So, less than $10,150 annual income is their lowest category. Over 40,000 as their highest. We looked at Hispanics, African-Americans, Whites, and Others. The population of Other is very small in Texas. And then Texas has a unique way of doing their risk assessment, where the caseworkers calculate a risk score. So, that helps really well, and doing analyses like this because we have a score for risk. Texas has seven areas of concern that are part of their risk assessment, and they have a joint risk and safety assessment. They don’t really distinguish between the two concepts like some states do. And their — each of those 7 scales is scored on a five-point Likert scale. So, 1 being low to minimal risk, 5 being high risk. So, highest risk score would be 35 points, lowest risk score would be 7 points. And then, we tried to control for as many other things that were available in our data that had been previously identified in the literature as having some relationship with child welfare outcomes. So, parents’ marital status, whether the parent was a teen parent, age of the youngest child, number of children in the household, the type of allegation, physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect. The reports source, so mandated reporters versus community reporters. And then the region of the state. We didn’t have a lot of community data, but Texas is divided into 12 regions, so we at least tried to control for the regional differences. So, the first thing we looked at was the
substantiation decision. And as I mentioned, our particular variables of interest were looking at income, risk, how risk fits into all that, and then race. And then what we found is as — as expected, income was a significant predictor of substantiation. Families in the lowest income category,
less than ten thousand dollars, were nearly twice as likely to be involved in a substantiated case as families in the highest income
category, That is — wasn’t a surprise to us. Shouldn’t be a surprise to you guys because what we know about poverty and maltreatment. But what we found is that, when we controlled for income and for risk, and all of those other categories, race still came out as a significant predictor. Controlling for income, controlling for risk, so we’re comparing white families with the same income, same risk, to black families same income, same risk, just the race of the child was still predicting that case being substantiated. So, African-Americans were still 15% more likely than white families to have a disposition of substantiation even when they had the same income and same risk profile. So, to us, that was evidence of some type of racial bias. The only difference between these cases, everything else being held constant, the only difference was the race of the child. Child welfare system factors including a lack of resources to adequately address the needs of children and families of color. This has to do with communities and resources being available in communities and within systems. And then fourth, Fluke was the first one to kinda of bring up this idea of geographical context. Meaning neighborhood effects such as concentrated poverty and maltreatment. So not just family income, but community income and community poverty and how that contributes to maltreatment. So, they have these four explanations here. But if you look at these explanations, other than the new emphasis on the geographic location, these are the same as the explanations before the NIS. So, even though there’s been all this discussion about differences in maltreatment rates, the reasons why disproportionality occurs, given everything that we really know in the literature are pretty much the same. There’s differential need, differential risk among African-American families. We always believe that. Now we just have evidence to show that that’s true because there’s differential — we know that there’s differences in maltreatment rates. But we also have evidence particularly some of this emerging evidence where we can control for poverty and risk and show that there is racial bias in child welfare systems. And then we have these community things like lack of resources, um, lack of resources can impact removal decision if there’s not resources to safely maintain a child in their home, then a caseworker ma — may make a decision that the only way to provide services to keep the child safe is to remove. But really, um it hasn’t — it’s — it’s changed the way we
talk about disproportionality, the NIS findings, but it really hasn’t changed what we know about it. The problem where we’re at right now, is that we kind of have these camps. We have this group of researchers who are the poverty people. And they will tell you, disproportionality is not a problem. Disproportionality is because of poverty. Child welfare systems need to be doing things to address poverty. It’s not a problem. Anybody who’s researching disproportionality, anybody who’s concerned about that is wasting their time. And I’m paraphrasing that, but that’s pretty, pretty close to something that actual researcher said to me. You need to stop doing disproportionality stuff. The problem is solved. It’s not an issue in child welfare systems anymore. Not a problem. Um, and then you have other people, who are on the other end, that are really pushing against that. And saying, no, we have a problem with racial bias. We need to give this anti-racism training. That’s where we need to be directing our efforts. My belief is that the the truth of this is that both things are important. That we need to be looking at both differential risk, differential need, and racial bias within child welfare systems. And I think this is a good — good example of this kind of bifurcation in the way we talk about this. This is Barth’s model of disproportionality back in 2005. And so he has up here high risk factors, high exposure to risk factors for maltreatment. That’s what kind of starts disproportionality from happening. And then he has two paths, to disproportionality. The one that goes across the top says, child maltreatment results from risk. We have higher incidence of maltreatment, the agency acts impartially, and then we have over-representation. So, higher ends of maltreatment, agency responds, you have over-representation of African-American kids. On the bottom, he says there’s high exposure to risk. Then there’s moderating factors within families that reduce that risk, and then we have no greater incidence of maltreatment, which we know not to be true now. but then we have this idea agency bias, that contributes to over-representation, but the problem with this model it that it presents it as either one or the other. You either have higher rates of maltreatment, or you have agency bias along the bottom path. One or the other produced disproportionality. I believe, as I said, that it’s both. You have a higher incidence of maltreatment, you have the agency reacting to that higher incidence of maltreatment, and you have agency bias. And these three things together is what results in over-representation of children in the child welfare system — over-representation of African-American children. Um, so what we really know now poverty associated risk are absolutely without a doubt, significant contributors to disproportionality and disparities. But we also have new emerging evidence of racial bias being present in child welfare systems. So that remains an important consideration for child welfare systems. I think, you know, as I’ve mentioned, there’s this idea that of course racial bias is a problem in child welfare systems because of the history of race in this country, what we know about other systems, but that’s only as good as you know, it’s not good enough until you actually have evidence of it. And it’s very hard to find evidence of racial bias because, like, you can’t go survey caseworkers and ask them if they have biases towards the African-American families on their case loads, right? So, it’s harder to find evidence of racial bias Um, Sam Myers, from the University of Minnesota — Minnesota? Just published a paper in children in new services review looking at neglect cases. Where he gave caseworkers pictures and then a little description of a neglect family. So, he showed them a picture of a very um, neglectful, dirty environment like feces, garbage all over the floor, and then he Photoshopped a picture of an African-American baby sitting on a mattress in the middle of all this, and then another picture with a white baby sitting on a mattress in all of this, and what do you think the caseworker’s decisions were in terms of which case needed to be a removal or which didn’t? Right, right, right. But he did find some evidence of racial bias in the system with these black families being more likely to get the need for both intervention by the system and need for removal. So, there’s ways with scenarios, things like that, to show that racial bias is present in the system. The point of that though is that, really, there shouldn’t be the two camps. There shouldn’t be the poverty camp and bias camp. That we should both be able to kinda come together and acknowledge the contribution of both of these things. That both poverty and racial bias contribute to racial disproportionality. And invest our efforts trying to understand both. Not sacrificing one for the other. Yeah, there’s been studies from Illinois that have been done have shown no difference by worker race, but then another sees few studies that have shown that African-American workers are more likely to substantiate Um, in general, I know I’ve seen at least one or two that have show that African-American workers are more likely to substantiate African-American families than white workers. But for the most part, I believe if you were to sum up the research I think most of it shows now worker effects. Race of the work of systems. If you look at Latino families, you could see that they’re kind of slightly under-represented in child welfare systems, both in reports and in foster care entries. But if you separate the family’s between immigrant Latino families and U.S.-born Latino families, the U.S.-born families are very over-represented and the immigrant families are very under-represented. But when you put them together, it looks like proportional representation. So, there’s — as immigrant populations grow in certain communities, you see very low rates of Latino involvement in child welfare systems, and then that’s a possibility, too, that, it doesn’t mean that there’s lower maltreatment, in Latino homes. It just may mean that they’re not coming to the attention of social service systems due to fears of their immigration status, separation from their children. That kinda thing. Okay, let me wrap up, I just have — I’m sorry, question there? Keep going? Okay, just have a few more slides to kinda wrap up. Um, so what we know. The terms disproportionality and disparities have become value laden terms that are synonymous with racial bias or racial discrimination. And that’s a problem in the way that we talk about disproportionality and disparities. When someone says, there’s disproportionality in the system, or we have racial disparities here. Now, the way that those terms have become known to be in the way that we talk about them, we think that means it’s a problem of racial bias or racial discrimination. And it’s not, if we don’t have evidence to support that. The problem, historically, with describing disproportionality as a problem, and in the reason why we’ve made ourselves vulnerable to critiques by people like Elizabeth Barthlett is because by setting up disproportionality to be a problem that needs to be fixed, it’s inferred that the solution to disproportionality is proportional representation. And there’s no evidence anywhere that can be used to support that proportional representation is an appropriate policy goal. Particularly given what we know about differences in risk differences and maltreatment, nobody knows the right number of African-American children that are supposed to be in the system. But we do have a pretty good idea that it should probably be a little bit higher than children of other races because we know they are more likely to be exposed to risk factors associated with poverty, and they are more likely to experience maltreatment. What’s important is that we distinguish between poverty that results from bias, — I’m sorry, disproportionality that results from bias and disproportionality that results from differential risk and differential need. The former, disproportionality that results from bias, is a problem. The latter is an appropriate system response. If there’s higher risk — if there’s need for intervention you want the child welfare system to be intervening in those cases. So, all the available evidence that we have shows that a general strategy about child welfare systems that focuses solely on efforts to reduce bias, improve cultural competence neglects many of the important issues that contribute to this problem. Issues like reporting, and where that’s coming from. Um, but primarily issues of the poverty and the risk that’s contributing to grade of maltreatment. But at the same time, the critiques that say we need to abandon all of the racial bias cultural competence training are similarly, misguided. I mean there’s, um, I’ve recently become really interested in neuroscience literature that looks at implicit biases. And it’s just fascinating the way that implicit biases work in your brain without even being able to detect these things. And there’s all of this evidence coming out from neuroscience about the way that implicit biases work and how it works to, in the way that we think about, um, black families, particularly how white people think about black — black people. And again, this idea that child welfare workers are somehow immune to the effects of this bias or that system’s immune to the effects of racial bias, um, it just doesn’t make any sense . So, I mean, efforts need to come at both places. Um, but that doesn’t mean that the disproportionality that results from different — differential need isn’t a problem. Those are things that child welfare systems need to be addressing. So, in terms of addressing disproportionality, the first one, and most important one, I think, or, very important one, is that, responses need to be informed by data. Um, responses need to be informed by thorough analyses and understanding of the data that child welfare systems have. To what extent and at which decision points do disparities exist? In Wisconsin? Is the greatest disparity at the point a referral, or is it somewhere else in the system? In many states, there’s very little disparity at the point of substantiation. So, then you find this disparity at referral very little disparity at substantiation, and then disparity goes back up at foster care entries. But where in your system are the disparities? And then you really need to have an understanding of the factors that contribute to those disparities. And that you can do by conducting the types of analyses like we did in Texas to try to control for poverty, risk, see the extent to which race emerges as an explanatory factor. And actually in those Texas studies, our variables of interest were poverty, race, and risk. but it turns out that the greatest predictor of substantiation is the report source. The report coming from a professional reporter is the greatest, you know, the greatest predictor of substantiation. So you can learn things from that, too. in terms of where you direct your efforts. But at the same time, so you need to know what your data says and where those disparities exist, and if you’re providing training on racial bias, you should have evidence support that your system has a problem with racial bias from the data. But, most of the evidence that we have shows that efforts to address disproportionality need to be targeted within communities that are significantly impacted by disproportionality. So, efforts should address prevention and
reduction of maltreatment in impoverished, African-American communities where there’s high incidence of maltreatment. But, child welfare systems, historically, have been very unsuccessful in engaging with communities, particularly African-American communities given the perceptions within many African-American communities about the child welfare system. Um, and about baby snatchers and things like that. So, in order for the child welfare system to
really be successful, in developing these community collaborations um, the child welfare system needs to do some work to begin to engage with those communities to recognize the barriers that their system faces in engaging with African-American communities, and then, spending quite a bit of time
going into the communities um, doing things at events to identify
themselves as a helpful resource for families, rather than just the agency that takes families away. So, participating in neighborhood fairs, community fairs, different things like that, health-related fairs and presentations. Whatever is necessary to get their perception changed as one of being a helpful resource in agencies. And then ultimately, child welfare systems have to embrace a strategy of maintaining children in their home. Obviously, barriers exist to maintaining children in their homes, and those usually have to do with the
resources that are available in communities. But that goes back to the need for child
welfare systems to engage communities together. Ultimately, if we can think of child protection as a community responsibility, and get communities to think about child
protection as a community responsibility, that the people in communities and the
families in communities are just as responsible for the safety
of their children as the child wefare system is, then, we can work with those communities to develop strategies and bring in resources where they’re not there to keep children safely maintained in their home. If the child welfare system can work with communities of color, to explain what disproportionality is, acknowledge that this is a problem that this system has, and that we want to work with you, the
community, to address this problem, what are resources that your community
needs to keep children in this community? But then, the important thing is, when
those resources don’t exist, the child welfare system needs to invest
in working with the community to bring those resources into the
community or develop those resources. Of course, there’s funding implications
to all of that and then that depends on the larger
political factors that are going on in the state, But ultimately, engagement with the community and resource development within poor
communities of color is what’s going to ultimately impact disproportionality. So, concluding thoughts. The biggest thing that I hope you can take away from this: race disproportionalities and disparities
are complex phenomena that are not caused by a single factor. Poverty is part of it, racial bias is part of it, there are many, many other things that
contribute to racial disproportionality. And you can’t just say that it’s one
thing and not the other. What we do know in terms of the big
contributing factors is that our efforts to address them
should focus on things that include racial bias, poverty, disproportionate need, disproportionate risk factors in poor African-American communities. We need to do much additional research that identifies the extent to which disparities result from differential need, and the extent to which they result from
poverty, and that has to do, in some part, in the ways in which systems collect data about income data, about race. But we need to understand much more about that. And then ultimately, child welfare systems need to work collaboratively with communities affected by disproportionality, get the communities engaged in the
solution to the problem and work together to address the issues
that are impacting their children. And again, ultimately child protection is
a community responsibility, and if child welfare agencies and
communities come together to believe that, then, we can work together to address disproportionality. Thank you very much, for your really
great attention.

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