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Dec/Jan 2006Vol. 6, No. 10Two Studies of Racial Disproportionality

Racial disproportionality in child welfare is widely acknowledged, and studies are now focused on identifying the types of disparity, as well as where in the process the unequal treatment occurs. Two recent State-specific studies explored these topics by examining (1) the disproportionate number of Hispanic children in the Utah child welfare system and (2) neglect cases of African-American children in Minnesota.

Ethnicity was the best predictor of length of time in out-of-home placement in a study that compared Hispanic and White non-Hispanic children involved with the child welfare system in Utah. The study, which reviewed 16,581 reported and 1,001 substantiated cases of abuse or neglect, found that Hispanic children spent significantly longer time in out-of-home care than White children and were younger when they were brought into the system.

The study's authors suggest that systematic discrimination may occur when caseworkers perceive younger Hispanic children, or those in households with single mothers, as being at higher risk for maltreatment. The results show the need for increased cultural awareness among child welfare professionals, especially at the stages of case assessment and decision-making.

The complete study, "Maybe Ignorance Is Not Always Bliss: The Disparate Treatment of Hispanics Within the Child Welfare System," appears in the December 2005 issue of Children and Youth Services Review. The abstract is available online at

In a study of neglect cases in four Minnesota counties, few differences were found between cases involving African-American and Caucasian children in terms of services and outcomes; however, findings suggest disproportionality in reporting and possibly in screening cases and in the wait for adoption.

In the study of neglect cases, differential treatment occurred at the point at which a worker would determine whether or not an investigation was warranted. For example, in cases in which maternal drug abuse was involved, the case was more likely to be investigated when the child was African-American.

The Executive Summary for the "African American Comparative Case Review Study Report," which was recommended to the Minnesota Department of Human Services by the African American Disparity Advisory committee, is available at

Related Items

Read more about racial disparity in this current issue in "Dealing With Racial Disproportionality in Child Welfare" in the News From the Children's Bureau section and in these past issues of Children's Bureau Express:

  • "Overrepresentation of Minority Children: How the Child Welfare System Is Responding" (July/August 2004)
  • "Addressing Racial Disproportionality in Child Welfare" (November 2003)
  • "Seeking Causes: Racial Disproportionality in Child Welfare" (August 2003)