This paper examined the relative influence of clinical and organizational characteristics on the decision to place a child in out-of-home care at the conclusion of a child maltreatment investigation. It tested the hypothesis that extraneous factors, specifically, organizational characteristics, impact the decision to place a child in out-of-home care. A secondary aim was to identify possible decision making influences related to disparities in placement decisions tied to Aboriginal children. Research suggests that the Aboriginal status of the child and structural risk factors affecting the family, such as poverty and poor housing, substantially account for this overrepresentation.
The decision to place a child in out-of-home care was examined using data from the Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect. This child welfare dataset collected information about the results of nearly 5,000 child maltreatment investigations as well as a description of the characteristics of the workers and organization responsible for conducting those investigations. Multi-level statistical models were developed using MPlus software, which can accommodate dichotomous outcome variables, which are more reflective of decision making in child welfare. MPlus allows the specific case of the logistic link function for binary outcome variables under maximum likelihood estimation.
Final models revealed the importance of the number of Aboriginal reports to an organization as a key second level predictor of the placement decision. It is the only second level factor that remains in the final model. This finding was very stable when tested over several different levels of proportionate caseload representation ranging from greater than 50% to 20% of the caseload.
Disparities among Aboriginal children in child welfare decision making were identified at the agency level.
The study provides additional evidence supporting the possibility that one source of overrepresentation of Aboriginal children in the Canadian foster care system is a lack of appropriate resources at the agency or community level.