Addressing disparities in child welfare mandated reporting
- NaQuanda Jordan was in the AdoptUSKids MPLD program. There, she did research, called an action research project, as part of the program.
- NaQuanda’s project was called “Addressing Disparities in Child Welfare Mandated Reporting.”
- She convened a mandated reporter training workgroup and proposed a curriculum for mandated reporters.
- The curriculum would be culturally responsive to decrease implicit bias in decision-making and disproportionate reporting of abuse and neglect of children of color.
Lived experience shaped NaQuanda’s work
When MPLD alumna NaQuanda Jordan talks about her research, her passion is clear.
NaQuanda is a child welfare quality assurance manager for the Monroe County Department of Social Services. Prior to accepting this position, she worked for the NYS Office of Children and Family Services as a regional child abuse specialist supervisor. Her focus was on child welfare oversight, monitoring, and technical assistance. NaQuanda transitioned to Monroe County to have a closer impact on improving experiences and outcomes for children and families in Rochester, NY, where she was born and raised.
NaQuanda’s own lived experience was a driving force while she conducted her research. Her life, in some ways, has mirrored that of the people she wants to help.
“I am a child whose father spent a number of years incarcerated. He didn’t wake up and decide he wanted to be a criminal. Unfortunately, he didn’t get everything that he needed, which led to a life of crime. I do child welfare work professionally, but it’s also tied to my personal life experiences.”
NaQuanda has come to learn that the juvenile and criminal justice systems are plagued with disparities similar to child welfare. In fact, the systems intersect. Children and youth who are involved in the child welfare system are more likely to end up in the juvenile and criminal justice systems. This has been termed the “foster-care-to-prison pipeline.”
Understanding these complexities led NaQuanda to take a deeper look at the system, focusing on CPS reports.
According to NaQuanda, African American and Hispanic children are disproportionately represented in New York State central register reports. Similar trends are mirrored across the country. This issue has a negative impact on children, families, and communities of color.
It’s important to understand that poverty rates are directly related to increased CPS reports, not actual child abuse or neglect. Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities experience disproportionate reports of allegations of abuse and neglect simply because they are more likely to experience poverty.
In addition, African American children experience disparities at every decision point in child welfare, including CPS reports, indicated reports, foster care admissions, and foster care stays. Once placed in foster care, African American children tend to achieve permanency at lower rates.
So, what is causing disproportionate reporting?
Implicit bias in mandated reporting
According to Child Welfare Information Gateway’s Mandatory Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect, “The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) of 1974 requires each state to have provisions or procedures that mandate specific individuals to report known or suspected child abuse or neglect.”
Most states and territories have identified specific professionals as mandated reporters. However, training varies across the country. CAPTA does not require standard training for mandated reporters. It also does not require any training related to racial equity, cultural competency, or implicit bias.
Racial inequities, cultural incompetency, and implicit bias can lead to mandated reporters reporting families of color in higher numbers. According to NaQuanda, “Data shows in New York State and across the country that children of color are more likely to be reported to child welfare.”
The physical and social environment can also add to implicit bias. Naquanda explains that “families who suffer from poverty tend to come in contact with mandated reporters more,” such as social services or the police. Increased contact can increase the likelihood of being reported.
Searching for a solution
NaQuanda’s process included looking at the following factors:
- The history of child welfare
- The role of race and demographic trends in New York State and Monroe County
- Mandated reporter-type data, including law enforcement and education and social service personnel
“I found that the majority of CPS investigations are unfounded. For the ones that are substantiated, the bulk of them is related to underlying neglect, which is tied to poverty.”
With this information in hand, Monroe County became a focal point of Jordan’s research.
African American and Hispanic children in Monroe County that reside in certain neighborhoods are more likely to be reported to CPS by mandated reporters. Children and families that reside in these neighborhoods struggle with poverty, systemic racism, and inequality at disproportionate rates. These issues are not unique to Monroe County or New York State.
She used data mapping to visualize this issue and to identify disparity trends, looking at the correlation between mandated reporter-type and CPS reports by zip code.
A closer look at CPS investigations and their effects in this country
The findings that NaQuanda uncovered were supported by the Child Maltreatment 2020 report, which the Children’s Bureau released in January 2022.
According to the report, during the federal fiscal year 2020:
- Professionals submitted about 67 percent of CPS reports.
- The highest percentages were from legal, law enforcement, education, and medical and social service personnel.
- Of these CPS reports, about 18 percent of children were determined to be victims of maltreatment. “The remaining children were not determined to be victims or received an alternative response.”
- African American children make up about only 14 percent of the population in this country, but they are disproportionately represented in CPS reports at about 21 percent.
Having established this problem, NaQuanda has proposed a new approach within child welfare.
A curriculum for mandated reporters
NaQuanda is advocating for culturally responsive training for mandated reporters.
She explains that we need to address mandated reporter decision-making at the front door and understand how implicit bias may impact decisions. As racial disparities are present at all decision points within child welfare, there should be a focus on reducing not only the disparities within our system but the disparities that are at the front door of child welfare.
At the federal level, she recommends that CAPTA be amended to include provisions that would require training for mandated reporters in three important areas: racial equity, cultural competency, and implicit bias.
“There’s no specific requirement within CAPTA for mandated reporters to engage in any type of training like this right now,” NaQuanda explains.
At the state level, she recommends that jurisdictions:
- Review and amend state-mandated reporting laws and regulations to require training for mandated reporters on racial equity, cultural competency, and implicit bias.
- Use geographical and mandated reporter-type data to identify trends and needs related to racial equity, cultural competency, and implicit bias training.
- Partner with adjacent systems to address macro-level barriers that impact child welfare outcomes.
- Create “warm lines” as an alternative to CPS referrals to address underlying needs that impact poverty.
Making a positive difference in child welfare
Of her time in the MPLD program, NaQuanda says, “This was the first time in my career I had the opportunity to engage with professionals in the child welfare field that looked like me. They could relate to me, and we had similar experiences.”
And while the program allowed her to do this project, NaQuanda has long been interested in prevention. Originally drawn to the criminal justice system, she pivoted to child welfare after some reflection.
“I started to peel back the layers and figured individuals in the criminal justice system come from somewhere. It’s not about who they are and it’s not about what they’ve done; it’s about what they’ve experienced.”
Child welfare professionals have the opportunity to impact the experiences of children and families through advocacy for legislation and public policy change.