Child welfare workers perspective of poverty, and case substantiation

Families living in poverty are overly represented in the child welfare system. Risk factors that include but are not limited to, inadequate housing, emotional and social challenges, and domestic violence cause families living in poverty to be more likely to have CPS involvement. It is important to determine if families in poverty are overly represented in the child welfare system due to child welfare workers’ perception of poverty to ensure families living in poverty are not overly represented. The researchers present literature regarding child abuse and neglect, case substantiation, and perception of poverty, focusing on risk factors associated with poverty, and the child welfare system. This research aims to determine if perception of poverty influences a person’s decision to substantiate reports of alleged child abuse and neglect. The researchers in this study developed two sets of vignettes, one set depicting a family living in poverty and another set depicting a wealthy family. Each set of vignettes consisted of one vignette regarding a domestic violence incident, and another vignette regarding lack of supervision. In each vignette participants were asked to determine if the abuse occurred, or if neglect occurred using the California Department of Child Adult and Family Services definitions of Substantiated, Inconclusive, or Unfounded. The respondents were asked to provide a written explanation to defend their decision. Each respondent was also given the Feagin Poverty Scale (Feagin, 1972; Viljoen & Maseko, 2013) to measure their perception of poverty, and a demographic questionnaire. After analyzing the data using our hypothesis Master of Social Work student’s perception of poverty and case substantiation, we found that our hypothesis was partly substantiated with significance. Participants response to the Feagin Poverty Scale (Feagin, 1972; Viljoen & Maseko, 2013) and their decision to find child abuse and neglect allegations substantiated, unfounded or inconclusive suggest that there is a statistically significant correlation found between a person’s perception of poverty and their decision to determine child abuse and neglect allegations to be inconclusive, unfounded, or substantiated. Findings from this study suggest it would be beneficial for further research to be conducted to study perception of poverty and how this impacts caseworkers’ decision making in the child welfare system.