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February 2005Vol. 6, No. 1Worker Perceptions of Neglect of American Indian Children

Data collected from the 1995-1999 National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) indicate differences in child welfare workers' perceptions of and responses to the neglect of American Indian children compared to the neglect of White children. This is the conclusion of a recent study that compared a matched set of 9,080 American Indian children and 8,628 White children, all of whom were identified as victims of neglect. According to the NCANDS data, which were collected by State and county (usually, non-Indian) child welfare workers, the neglect of American Indian children was more often associated with alcohol abuse of the caretaker or of the child, violence in the family, and family receipt of public assistance. The neglect of White children was more often associated with child or adult mental or physical problems and inadequate housing. In addition, discrepancies in child welfare responses were found in the high percentage of Indian children who received foster care placement and juvenile court petitions, which contrasted with the high percentage of White children who received family preservation services.

The study suggests that mainstream child welfare workers may be unfamiliar with Native American culture and practices, and this may impact their responses to potential cases of neglect in American Indian children. The data in the NCANDS appear to confirm that direct participation of Indian nations in child protective investigations, treatment, and data collection is needed in order to obtain accurate numbers and characteristics of abused and neglected American Indian children and to ensure appropriate, culturally sensitive responses.

The complete article, "Are They Really Neglected? A Look at Worker Perceptions of Neglect Through the Eyes of a National Data System," is available in the September 2004 issue of the First Peoples Child and Family Review: A Journal on Innovation and Best Practices in Aboriginal Child Welfare Administration, Research, Policy and Practice. Copies are available online: (PDF 693 KB)