Faculty Publications

Document Type


Publication Date

October 2002


Social Work


While child abuse and neglect appears to affect children of all racial and ethnic origins (US Department of Health and Human Services, 1998; Sedlack & Broadhurst, 1996), an analysis of national, California and Santa Clara County data on the ethnicities of children in out of home placement reveals that, compared to their presence in the general population, there is a disproportionate involvement of children of color in the public child welfare system (CWS). In Santa Clara County, in particular, when compared to the general population, African American, Hispanic/Latino and Native American children are overrepresented in the CWS, while Asian American/Pacific Islander and White children are underrepresented. African Americans represent 4% of the general child population in the county, and are 14.7% of children in the CWS. Hispanic/Latino children represent 30% of the general child population in Santa Clara County and constitute 53.5% of the child welfare cases. Native Americans are approximately 0.5% of Santa Clara County’s population and represent 1.0% of children in the CWS. Asian American/Pacific Islander children represent 21% of the general county child population and 5.1% of children in the CWS; Whites constitute 45% of the general child population and 25.8% of the child welfare population (Needell et al., 2002, US Bureau of the Census, 2000).The disproportionate involvement of children of color in the CWS has long been an issue of concern for CWS workers, clients, researchers and government and community groups; yet no research to date (with the exception of this study) has systematically investigated the factors associated with this disproportionality. In an effort to understand better the factors related to the disproportionate number of children of color in the CWS in Santa Clara County, the Department of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS) contracted with the Child Welfare Research Team (CWRT) in the College of Social Work at San José State University to conduct a three-year study on this topic. An advisory group, consisting of administrators and representatives from various racial/ethnic groups was convened to help guide the development of the project.The primary overall question posed by DFCS was: What are the primary reasons why children of color are disproportionately represented in Santa Clara County’s Child Welfare System? In order to address the complexity of this question, the CWRT elected to employ a multiphase/multimethod approach, beginning with an initial exploratory phase that was completed in April 2001.This report provides findings from Phase 2 that ran from September 2001 to August 31, 2002. Specifically, in this second phase of the study, the Child Welfare Research Team (CWRT) addressed two of the four themes that emerged from Phase 1 (see Section II of the current report for a review of all four themes presented at the end of Phase 1). The overarching themes guiding the current Phase 2 report are as follows: 1) little is known about specific pathways through the CWS and ways in which these pathways differ for various racial/ethnic groups, and 2) various racial/ethnic groups may receive different treatment at key decision making points in the system.The primary methodology for Phase 2 involved extensive, in-depth reviews of 403 closed child welfare case records, a parallel descriptive analysis of 1720 closed cases within the CWS/CMS database, and key informant interviews with managers and supervisors in the county’s Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS).


Submitted to: The County of Santa Clara--Social Services Agency--Department of Family and Children’s ServicesBy: The Child Welfare Research Team--College of Social Work--San Jose State University

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