Black–White Differences in Child Maltreatment Reports and Foster Care Placements: A Statistical Decomposition Using Linked Administrative Data

Abstract

Introduction Official statistics have confirmed that relative to their presence in the population and relative to white children, black children have consistently higher rates of contact with child protective services (CPS). We used linked administrative data and statistical decomposition techniques to generate new insights into black and white differences in child maltreatment reports and foster care placements. Methods Birth records for all children born in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, between 2008 and 2010 were linked to administrative service records originating in multiple county data systems. Differences in rates of involvement with child protective services between black and white children by age 4 were decomposed using nonlinear regression techniques. Results Black children had rates of CPS involvement that were 3 times higher than white children. Racial differences were explained solely by parental marital status (i.e., being unmarried) and age at birth (i.e., predominantly teenage mothers). Adding other covariates did not capture any further racial differences in maltreatment reporting or foster care placement rates, they simply shifted differences already explained by marital status and age to these other variables. Discussion Racial differences in rates of maltreatment reports and foster care placements can be explained by a basic model that adjusts only for parental marital status and age at the time of birth. Increasing access to early prevention services for vulnerable families may reduce disparities in child protective service involvement. Using birth records linked to other administrative data sources provides an important means to developing population-based research.

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Correspondence to Emily Putnam-Hornstein.

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Maloney, T., Jiang, N., Putnam-Hornstein, E. et al. Black–White Differences in Child Maltreatment Reports and Foster Care Placements: A Statistical Decomposition Using Linked Administrative Data. Matern Child Health J 21, 414–420 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10995-016-2242-3

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Keywords

  • Racial disparities
  • Child maltreatment
  • Administrative data
  • Foster care
  • Birth records