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Subtle racism in child welfare decision-making

Lynn Marie Castrianno Galante, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Prior research has found that the decision to remove maltreated children from their home is influenced by a variety of factors including type of abuse and race of child victim. Child welfare statistics indicate that the proportion of minority children involved in child protective services are over-represented in the child welfare system, that minority children are placed in out-of-home care disproportionately in comparison with Caucasian children, and that minority children and families are receiving differential services within the child protective system. Might racial bias account for such differences? ^ In order to examine these issues, 903 social workers from around the country were asked to respond to a vignette depicting a substantiated case of child maltreatment. A multivariate, 3 (maltreatment ambiguity level) x 2 (race of child victim) x 2 (racism scale score) between-groups design was used. Analyses were also conducted to more directly compare respondents' perceptions of the two types of depicted abuse. ^ Results showed that physical abuse cases were associated with a greater array of recommended services, more barriers to treatment, increased risk of harm, and longer lengths of stay in out-of-home care. Neglect cases were associated with the perception that children are more adoptable and that families would be more likely to participate in and benefit from services. ^ This study also examined whether modern racism or aversive racism provided the most valid theoretical foundation for explaining patterns of results. The results showed limited support for the aversive racism theory and no support for the modern racism perspective. ^ Even though neither of the two theoretical perspectives was supported, the question remained whether race, in general, affected respondent decision-making. Overall, the data from this study presented an inconsistent view of how race matters in child welfare decision-making. On the one hand, race seemed to make a difference in decision-making for high risk cases with respect to out-of-home care recommendations and perceptions of risk. On the other hand, these differences were opposite of that expected. Possible explanations for the obtained results are discussed. ^

Subject Area

Psychology, Social|Social Work|Sociology, Public and Social Welfare|Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies

Recommended Citation

Castrianno Galante, Lynn Marie, "Subtle racism in child welfare decision-making" (1999). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI9958390.