Disparities in child welfare case substantiation for parents with intellectual disabilities

My new study looks at child welfare system experiences of parents with intellectual disabilities in the United States.  Child welfare involvement of parents  with intellectual disabilities – including disproportionate rates of involvement in that system are well documented in smaller sample studies. Drawing on national-level data set from the United States child welfare system, this study presents data on substantiated child welfare cases involving a parent with an intellectual disability as well as information about risk factors, child maltreatment types and services provided at the start of a child welfare case.

Key findings:

Parents with intellectual disabilities were almost two times more likely to have a substantiated case as compared to parents without intellectual disabilities.

Cases involving parents with intellectual disabilities were more likely to involve psychological or emotional abuse, but not other types of abuse and neglect.

Disparities in the provision of services specific to identified risk factors, such as substance use disorders, were identified.

Findings:

During 2013, there were 3,427,678 cases of suspected child maltreatment in the United States. In the field, suspected child maltreatment cases are vetted by a triage team and either sent on to child welfare investigators for examination, or are unsubstantiated/not supported.  Of these cases, 0.2% (n=7,831) involved a parent with an intellectual disability.  However, the present study only reports on cases in which data about a parent’s intellectual disability status is reported.  Of the 1,013,464 cases of suspected child maltreatment in 2013 for whom data about parents’ intellectual disability status was reported, 0.8% (n=7,831) involved a parent with an intellectual disability.  Of the 7,831 cases involving parents with an intellectual disability, 31.3% (n=2,450) had maltreatment claims substantiated, as compared to 20.8% (n=209,543) of cases with parents without intellectual disabilities.  This indicates that cases involving parents with intellectual disabilities were 1.73 times more likely to be substantiated cases as compared to cases involving parents without intellectual disabilities (p<.001).  Among all substantiated cases, those involving parents with intellectual disabilities comprised 3.6%.  36.7% (n=900) of cases involving parents with intellectual disabilities involved at least one child who had previously been involved in the child welfare system.  Cases involving parents with intellectual disabilities were 1.75 times more likely to have involved at least one child who had previously been involved in the child welfare system (p<.001).

Characteristics of parents with intellectual disabilities in child welfare cases

Substantiated child welfare cases involving parents with intellectual disabilities were more likely to report all of the clinical and environmental risk factors known to be associated with child welfare involvement among parents. Most notably, substantiated cases involving parents with intellectual disabilities were 13.3 times more likely to have a comorbid visual or hearing impairment as compared to substantiated cases involving parents without disabilities.  Further, emotional disturbance (OR=6.16), physical impairment (OR=5.57), other medical conditions (OR=4.86), alcohol abuse (OR=3.36), and inadequate housing (OR=2.20) were all over two times more likely among substantiated cases involving parents with intellectual disabilities.

Maltreatment in substantiated cases involving parents with intellectual disabilities

Substantiated cases involving parents with intellectual disabilities involved a range of different types of maltreatment. No differences were noted between substantiated cases involving parents with and without intellectual disabilities regarding rates of physical abuse, neglect, or medical neglect.  Substantiated cases involving parents with intellectual disabilities were 47% less likely to include allegations of sexual abuse (OR=0.53).  Higher rates of allegations of psychological/emotional abuse (OR=1.42) and “other” types of child maltreatment (OR=4.71) were reported for substantiated cases involving parents with intellectual disabilities.  Unfortunately, “other types of child maltreatment” are not defined in the data source.

Services offered in substantiated cases involving parents with intellectual disabilities

Substantiated cases involving parents with intellectual disabilities involved a range of different types of services and service referrals. What is notable about the findings is the fact that substantiated cases involving parents with intellectual disabilities were less likely in all categories but two  – adoption services that were provided to 1.4% of the sample (OR=1.37) and educational services that were provided to 0.7% of the sample (OR=1.49).

In the full article, hopefully to be published soon, implications for casework in both the child welfare and developmental disabilities systems are discussed.  Please get in touch with me if you have questions about this research!

 

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