Child Out-of-Home Placement: Assessment Process as Contributing Factor to Racial Disparities

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Child Out-of-Home Placement: Assessment Process as Contributing Factor to Racial Disparities

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The social work system, like many other organizations is bombarded with laws, rules, and guidelines. Weber‟s theory of formal rationalization warns of a system in which human judgments are wiped away and replaced by non-human technologies that carry out processes designed to create a profit by the most cost effective means possible. Although the social work system is a state agency organized to offer services to families and individuals in need rather than to create a profit, elements of a formally rational system are apparent. Substantive rationality, or the use of values to make decisions, is decreased by the implementation of assessment tools designed to take the error out of the human decision making process. The assessment process used to determine whether a child should be placed in out-of-home care has created victims to the system, another element of a formally rational operation. According to data published by the Minnesota Department of Human Services (2010), there is a clear discrepancy between Native American, African American, and Caucasian American populations in regards to the rates of children that have been placed in out-of-home care. Through conducting my research I am attempting to explore certain factors that have led to these disparities in placement rates among different racial groups in Minnesota. The current research will focus on the social workers‟ assessment process and how their tools and discretion affect placement rates. I chose to focus on the assessment process rather than on the possible reasons for increased reporting and therefore placement of minority racial groups. With higher reporting of minority groups to Child Protection Services it is assumed that the placement rates will be higher as well; however it will be interesting to determine what, if any, factors are built into the assessment process that mitigate higher reporting rates. Reporting is based on the community, teachers, doctors and others in connection with children whom they may perceive to be in danger. The standards of what constitutes proper child treatment vary among different people, especially when it comes to different races and their differing practices (Brissett-Chapman 1997). I am interested in analyzing how the social work system helps, if at all, to alleviate the higher reporting of some races by taking into account differences in child treatment by different racial groups. Specifically, I address the following research questions: With stricter guidelines and the use of standardized assessment tools, is it possible to include substantive rationality or the use of values in the social work system? What facets of the assessment tools are specifically designed for racial sensitivity? To what extent are social workers able to use their own judgments to determine whether children need to be removed from their homes and how do they take differing racial norms into consideration?


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Rieland, Ashley. (2011). Child Out-of-Home Placement: Assessment Process as Contributing Factor to Racial Disparities. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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