Substantiated allegations of failure to protect in the child welfare system: Against whom, in what context, and with what justification?


By bhadmin February 2, 2021

Failure to protect (FTP), a sub-type of neglect, is used by child welfare systems to categorize and substantiate allegations of child maltreatment. Scholars and advocates have raised concerns that FTP is disproportionately used to substantiate mothers and people of color for harm perpetrated by others, particularly in the contexts of sexual abuse and domestic violence. Limited data exist about how FTP is used in practice or if substantiation of FTP varies by context across gendered or racialized groups. This study extends our understanding of use of FTP by examining who workers substantiate for FTP, in what context, and the justifications they use. Data for this study were drawn from child welfare records in a large, Midwestern county. Mixed methods were used to analyze data from 150 maltreatment referrals which included at least one substantiated allegation of FTP. Findings indicate that the contexts and rate at which caregivers were substantiated for FTP differed significantly across gendered groups. Mothers were most frequently substantiated for FTP in the contexts of sexual abuse, physical abuse, and domestic violence. Fathers were most frequently substantiated in the context of substance use. In addition, rates of FTP substantiation varied across racialized groups. Black caregivers were substantiated disproportionately across all contexts. White caregivers were overrepresented among those substantiated for FTP in the context of substance use. Notably, justification for substantiation decisions was often not documented in data. Implications for policy and practice are discussed.

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