Disparities in service referrals for psychosocial needs by U.S. child protection caseworkers in practice with parents with intellectual disabilities

parenting3That parents with intellectual disabilities are noted to have risk factors for child protection involvement as well as disproportionate rates of involvement in that system is well documented. Whether this is truly warranted is another question. Together with Salem State M.S.W. student Ms. Jordan Jensen, I have completed work on a new national study about the involvement of parents with intellectual disabilities in the U.S. child protection system.

Drawing on national-level data from the United States child protection system, this study presents data on substantiated child protection cases involving a parent with and without intellectual disability as well as information about psychosocial risk factors, child maltreatment types and service referrals provided at the start of a child protection case.  Through the use of this large data set, existing knowledge about this population derived from small localized studies can be compared to a large sample.

While cases involving parents with intellectual disabilities were more likely to involve psychological or emotional abuse, unlike the common narrative, other types of abuse and neglect were not more common.  In fact, sexual abuse was less likely among cases involving parents with intellectual disabilities than among parents without such disabilities.

Significant disparities in the provision of services specific to identified risk factors were noted, creating a disadvantage for parents with intellectual disabilities.  For example, while parents with intellectual disabilities were more likely to report housing insecurity, they were less likely to be referred for housing assistance, among other similar patterns of service need/service referral. Implications for case work in both the child protection and disability service systems are discussed in this article which is currently under review at a peer-reviewed journal in the child welfare field.