New Study to Apply Race Equity Lens to Federal Child Welfare Data

Testing if state-level performance is associated with reducing racial disparities

Since 2001 the Children’s Bureau in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has conducted periodic reviews of state child welfare systems. These reviews monitor compliance with federal child welfare requirements and determine how children and families experience being served by the child welfare system. Three rounds of these “Child and Family Service Reviews” or CFSRs have been conducted, and the fourth round (CFSR-4) is underway. (See the most recent reports.) Ensuring that child welfare is serving all people equitably is a critical part of this work.

In a new project funded by the federal government, Chapin Hall and partners at Georgia State University will apply a race equity lens using national CFSR-3 administrative data performance measures. Specifically, we will examine whether state program improvement performance is associated with reduced racial disparities in the child welfare system. We will assess if there is a difference between state-administered versus county-administered child welfare systems. We will also examine how the provision of other available public benefits such as state TANF expenditures, SNAP participation rates, and other county-level social and economic conditions impact performance and disparities.

Children of color, including children from Native communities, are more likely to be among those reported to child protective services relative to their proportion in the population. This has cascading implications for the overrepresentation of children of color in the child welfare system.

“Chapin Hall is committed to using data and evidence to inform an understanding of how to advance equity,” said Dr. Leanne Heaton, who is the principal investigator for the project. “Child welfare agencies can advance equity by deeply understanding the underlying factors driving their performance on the CFSRs and examining if there are differences by race and ethnicity. We also know there are also other factors that have a direct impact on performance and contribute to inequities in the system.

“This study will look at numerous variables that could have an impact on performance and inequities—from how the child welfare system is administered, availability of health care, TANF and SNAP expenditures, and other contextual factors like poverty levels,” Heaton continued. “The more we know about the larger service delivery context and how the resourcing of local counties contributes to child welfare involvement, the better we are positioned to build a true cross-system prevention system.”

Dr. William Sabol of Georgia State University is the co-principal investigator on the project. The research team also includes Chapin Hall researcher and data engineer Arya Harison and policy analyst Charlotte Goodell.

The study, “Leveraging Child and Family Services Review Administrative Data to Understand the Relevance of Context in Surveillance and Advancing Equity,” is slated to be completed in spring 2024. For more information, contact Dr. Leanne Heaton.

Learn more about Chapin Hall’s Racial Equity Principles.