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Universal Screening for Alcohol and Drug Use and Racial Disparities in Child Protective Services Reporting


This study examines racial disparities in Child Protective Services (CPS) reporting at delivery in a county with universal screening for alcohol/drug use in prenatal care. It also explores two mechanisms through which universal screening could reduce reporting disparities: Equitable Surveillance and Effective Treatment. Equitable Surveillance is premised on the assumptions that identification of drug use through screening in prenatal care leads to CPS reporting at delivery and that Black women are screened more than White women, which leads to disproportionate reporting of Black newborns. Universal screening would correct this by ensuring that prenatal providers screen and therefore also report White women to CPS, thereby reducing disparities. Effective Treatment is premised on the idea that identification of drug use through screening in prenatal care leads women to receive treatment during pregnancy, which thereby reduces CPS reporting at delivery. Universal screening would lead to prenatal providers screening more Black women and thereby to more Black women receiving treatment prenatally. The increase in treatment receipt during pregnancy would then decrease the number of Black newborns reported to CPS at delivery, thereby reducing disparities. County data were used to compare the racial/ethnic distribution of women and newborns in three points in the system (identification in prenatal care, treatment entry during pregnancy, and reporting to CPS at delivery related to maternal alcohol/drug use) and explore pathways to treatment. Despite Black women having alcohol/drug use identified by prenatal care providers at similar rates to White women and entering treatment more than expected, Black newborns were four times more likely than White newborns to be reported to CPS at delivery. This contradicts the premise of Effective Treatment. By default, findings were more consistent with Equitable Surveillance than Effective Treatment. Providers and policy makers should not assume that universal screening in prenatal care reduces CPS reporting disparities.

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This project was supported by a March of Dimes Community Award and NIAAA Graduate Training on Alcohol Problems, T32 AA07240. This manuscript was a chapter in Sarah Roberts’ dissertation. Cheri Pies provided helpful comments on this paper.

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Correspondence to Sarah C. M. Roberts DrPH.

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Roberts, S.C.M., Nuru-Jeter, A. Universal Screening for Alcohol and Drug Use and Racial Disparities in Child Protective Services Reporting. J Behav Health Serv Res 39, 3–16 (2012).

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  • Black Woman
  • Prenatal Care
  • Racial Disparity
  • Child Protective Service
  • Universal Screening