RACIAL DISPROPORTIONALITY IN CHILD WELFARE: False Logic and Dangerous Misunderstandings

By Russell, Jesse | Judicature, November/December 2011 | Go to article overview

RACIAL DISPROPORTIONALITY IN CHILD WELFARE: False Logic and Dangerous Misunderstandings


Russell, Jesse, Judicature


Dependency court judges struggle to achieve the best outcomes for children and families.

Disproportionality and disparities in child welfare appear to be widely recognized, if not fully understood, phenomena.1 Dependency court judges see first-hand racial imbalances appearing in the courtroom and struggle to understand why and how to safely reduce the imbalance to achieve the best outcomes for children and families. There is often disagreement on how to interpret or find meaning in the empirical evidence that supports the existence of disproportionality and disparities; some the result of fertile and valuable discussion; some possibly stemming from honest misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the empirical evidence. Several of these potential missteps are addressed in this paper, and these might not be the only potential pitfalls in meaningfully understanding the data surrounding disproportionality and disparities. They are presented here merely to further the discourse along a productive path.

Clarifying areas of misunderstanding or misinterpretation of data is a step toward formulating policies, practices and tools for reducing disproportionality and disparities in a meaningful way. This paper introduces five areas of potential misinterpretation or misunderstanding of empirical data, and it certainly does not exhaust these topics. The five areas of potential misunderstanding or misinterpretation are based in:

* the ecological fallacy concept,

* the fallacy of hidden assumptions,

* the lessons from different measures of disproportionality,

* the difficulty in understanding how probabilities relate to each other, and

* the effect that multicollinearity can have upon statistical findings.

This paper fits into a larger discussion about evaluating research, policy and best practices on racial disproportionality and disparities in juvenile dependency. First, some definitions are in order. For this paper, disproportionality is defined as follows: disproportionality refers to one population being out of proportion with respect to the general population.2 Disparity is defined as a lack of equality:3 unequal treatment of one racial or ethnic group as compared to another racial or ethnic group. The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges' Courts Catalyzing Change (CCC)4 Steering Committee expressed the judicial perspective on the challenges of communicating an understanding about disproportionality and disparity as:

The challenge is how to maximize this opportunity to do something that will reduce disparity without getting mired down in the feelings and emotions you have when you think about how this affects one personally. The challenge is to stay focused on the question: How do I communicate this in my jurisdiction in a way that will not create barriers?5

The judges of the CCC Steering Committee are right - the challenge is to maximize the opportunity. The challenge is not only to do so without being stuck in the emotional mire, but also without being stuck in any empirical/statistical swamps.

The Ecological Fallacy

It has been posited that the large representation of African American children in foster care is due to higher maltreatment rates for African American children, resulting in the disproportionate representation of African American children in the dependency system. This claim must be carefully examined to understand fully the actual units of analysis, the groups being analyzed, and the individuals making up those groups.

For example, Elizabeth Bartholet argues that: "First and foremost is that blacks [sic] are disproportionately associated with a set of characteristics that have been repeatedly found by many different child welfare experts to be accurate predictors for child maltreatment ... and there is no doubt that they are disproportionately associated with black families."6 She argues that "there is substantial evidence that black maltreatment rates are significantly higher than white, because black families are affected by poverty and other risk factors for maltreatment at significantly higher rates than whites"7 At first blush, this logic seems obvious: some characteristics are associated with higher rates of maltreatment, one group is more likely to have these characteristics, and thus, this group is more likely to have higher rates of maltreatment.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

RACIAL DISPROPORTIONALITY IN CHILD WELFARE: False Logic and Dangerous Misunderstandings
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.