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Associations Between Case, Staff, and Agency Characteristics and the Decision to Place a Child in Out-of-Home Care

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Abstract

Typically, when children are placed into out-of-home care due to child maltreatment concerns, people assume that this decision is based on action or inaction on behalf of the child’s caregivers. While such elements are likely the main drivers of the decision, a growing body of research suggests that other factors contribute to caseworkers’ decisions on the child welfare cases they serve. Drawing from the decision-making ecology (DME), this study examines the extent to which caseworker and organizational factors, in addition to case characteristics, play a role in decisions to remove a child from their home. Survey data from 118 investigation or assessment workers in a southeastern state were paired with administrative data from 10,568 child protective services (CPS) responses assigned to the surveyed workers for analysis. Multi-level modeling (cases, and cases within workers) results identified that, controlling for case characteristics and using 95% confidence intervals, workers who were male (aOR: 0.71 [0.50–0.998]), perceived the agency as more supportive (aOR: 0.87 [0.80–0.94]), and those indicating a strong orientation towards family preservation compared to child safety (aOR: 0.58 [0.42–0.81]) were associated with lower odds of placing children into out-of-home care. Staff who felt more cohesion with their co-workers (aOR: 1.37 [1.19–1.57]) were more likely to place children on their caseloads. These results indicate that the current system of decision-making and case trajectories are prone to influences from caseworkers’ personal biases and perceptions of support. Implications for CPS workforce selection, development, support, and case assignment are discussed.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank the federal and state administrators, supervisors, and caseworkers who supported this research.

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This work was supported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Title IV-E Waiver Demonstration Grant program.

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Correspondence to Dana Hollinshead.

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Hollinshead, D., Currie, D., Kroll, K. et al. Associations Between Case, Staff, and Agency Characteristics and the Decision to Place a Child in Out-of-Home Care. Int. Journal on Child Malt. 4, 325–347 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s42448-021-00083-9

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