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Racial Disparities in Child Physical and Sexual Abuse Substantiations: Associations with Childs’ and Accused Individuals’ Race

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Abstract

Racial and ethnic disparities are documented among children and adolescents with reported cases of child physical abuse (CPA) and child sexual abuse (CSA) and with substantiated and unsubstantiated cases in the United States. Yet, little is known about factors contributing to disparities, including how characteristics of the child and the person accused of maltreatment influence child maltreatment substantiation. Utilizing data from the 2016 National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, the current study assessed which factors contribute to racial and ethnic group disparities in CPA and CSA substantiation. Results indicated characteristics of the child and accused person differentially influence CPA and CSA case outcomes. Altogether, relative to White children, findings indicate CPA and CSA cases are more likely to be substantiated among Native North American children whereas Black children have a reduced likelihood of CPA and CSA substantiation. The race of the person accused of harming a child also significantly impacted child case outcomes. Findings from this study suggest we must re-examine and likely modify select policy and clinical practices in relation to reporting and substantiation (versus outcomes involving no substantiation) of CPA, CSA, (and likely neglect – which needs to be examined in follow-up research) considering observed racial inequities in child maltreatment case outcomes.

Highlights

  • Economic insecurity significantly increased substantiation in CPA cases and decreased substantiation in CSA cases.

  • Children racialized as Black were significantly less likely than White children to have cases of CPA and CSA substantiated.

  • Race of the person accused of harming a child significantly influenced substantiation, particularly for Black people.

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Notes

  1. To evaluate whether financial difficulties data might have introduced bias into our study, we ran a model analysis with the financial difficulties variable for comparison with our main findings. Overall, results were similar in the model with the financial difficulties variable.

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Correspondence to Rebecca L. Fix.

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Atkinson, K.D., Fix, S.T. & Fix, R.L. Racial Disparities in Child Physical and Sexual Abuse Substantiations: Associations with Childs’ and Accused Individuals’ Race. J Child Fam Stud 32, 44–56 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-022-02403-0

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