Patterns of Child Maltreatment Referrals among Asian and Pacific Islander Families

By Pelczarski, Yoshimi; Kemp, Susan P. | Child Welfare, January/February 2006 | Go to article overview

Patterns of Child Maltreatment Referrals among Asian and Pacific Islander Families


Pelczarski, Yoshimi, Kemp, Susan P., Child Welfare


Much of the available data on Asian American families who become involved with the child welfare system relies on global ethnic categories, such as the category Asian/Pacific Islander. To explore the diversity of experience that is hidden by such categories, this article analyzes two years of child maltreatment referrals for Asian and Pacific Island families in Washington state. The study findings show that considerable variation exists within the Asian and Pacific Islander population with regard to child protection referrals. Although Asian Americans as a whole were less likely to be referred to child protective services than other groups, the within group picture that these data capture is considerably more complex. Some Asian/Pacific Islander ethnic groups, particularly those which have experienced higher levels of social and economic stress, were more at risk of child welfare involvement than other groups. Such findings underscore the need for child welfare policies and practice that are sensitive to the considerable variability within the Asian/Pacific Islander community.

Asian Americans are among the fastest growing minority groups in the United States, possibly reaching an estimated 20.2 million by 2020 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1998). Despite increased interest in how ethnic and minority children and families experience public child welfare services, relatively little is known about Asian and Pacific Island children and families who become involved with the child welfare system through reports of child maltreatment (Browne & Broderick, 1994; Fong & Mokuau, 1994; Mass & Geaga-Rosenthal, 2000). The paucity of adequate data on patterns of child welfare involvement in this population is a significant concern, given the potential for errors in both policy and practice when largely untested assumptions are used about the needs and behaviors of particular cultural groups.

Several factors may contribute to the invisibility of Asian and Pacific Island families in the literature. First, such families are relatively underrepresented among reported cases of child abuse and neglect (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1998,2000). In 1997, for example, a 40-state study found that only 1.2% of the victims of all types of child abuse were children from Asian/Pacific Islander ethnic groups, even though these groups represented 4.5% of the total population in these states (National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect 1999). second, assumptions about Asians as America's model minority are probably as prevalent in public child welfare services as they are in the rest of U.S. society (Fong, 1997a; Mass & Geaga-Rosenthal, 2000). Dominant cultural representations of high achieving and economically successful Asian Americans-thus, having less pressing needs than other minority groups-obscure the reality that these families are both economically diverse and, in many instances, managing major challenges related to their status as immigrants and refugees as well as their racial identity in U.S. society (Blair & Qian, 1998; Mass & Geaga-Rosenthal, 2000). Neither overly visible in child welfare caseloads, nor a focus of social anxiety, Asian American children and families remain largely at the margins of child welfare attention.

To further complicate matters, much of the available data on Asian families relies on global ethnic categories, such as Asian/ Pacific Islander, that actually subsume more than 20 ethnic groups differing in multiple dimensions (Uba, 1994), including country of origin, immigration experience, level of bilingualism, degree of acculturation, and economic status. Not only are Asian Americans relatively invisible as recipients of child welfare services, but little effort to disaggregate the experiences of different ethnic groups within this category has taken place. Yet, as other scholars have made clear, such disaggregation is an essential step in better understanding the variability that frequently lies hidden within current understandings of the Asian American experience (Uehara, Takeuchi, & Smukler, 1994; Yoshihama, 2001). …

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