The role of race and caretaker substance abuse in child protective services responses to child abuse reports

Ralston, Kevin M.
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University of Delaware
It is believed that approximately 30% of the child maltreatment cases involve a caretaker with a substance abuse problem. Previous literature has established a link between caretaker substance abuse and child maltreatment. However, little research has examined how caretaker substance abuse and race together influence the Child Protective Services investigation of child abuse reports. A series of regression analyses examine African American/White disparities at three distinct points in the investigation process: length of the investigation, substantiation, and disposition. The results do not indicate a racial disparity exists at any point in the investigation. Instead, other factors stereotypically associated with residents of poor inner-city communities, have the largest influence on the decision, especially in cases where a decision includes out-of-home placement or criminal justice involvement. This could indicate a medicalization of caretaker substance abuse in the cases that do not involve serious sanctions, while those cases deemed more serious, underlying stereotypes take over and influence the disposition of an investigation.