Putnam-Hornstein, E., Needell, B., King, B., Johnson-Motoyama, M. (2013). Racial and ethnic disparities: A population-based examination of risk factors for involvement with child protective servicesChild Abuse and Neglect, 37, 33-46. 



In the United States, there has been evidence showing a disparity between racialized children and their families involvement with Child Protective Services (CPS), when compared to their white counterparts. It was concluded that the overrepresentation of Black children in CPS was the consequence of differential treatment when reporting, substantiating, and removing Black children based on their race rather than risk factors. The purpose of this study was to explore whether individual and family-level risk and protective factors recognized at birth impacted the racial disparities present in CPS and whether the mother’s birthplace and race (with a keen interest in Latino and White) influenced the referral, substantiation and placement in foster care. 




  • All California birth records from 2002 that were linked to child protective services and referred to for maltreatment before the age of 5 were analyzed, totalling to 531, 035 children. Of the 531, 035 children, 6% identified as Black, 51% identified as Latino (63% born outside of the United States), and 31% identified as White. 
  • Longitudinal design data linkage: child protection records were gathered from California Department of Social Services and cross referenced with the records available at California Department of Public Health.  
  • The racial groups were then examined to determine whether the child would be referred for maltreatment, substantiated as a victim of maltreatment, or removed from family home and placed into an out-of-home foster placement.  
  • Generalized linear models were used to determine the adjusted relative risk of referral, substantiation and placement in foster care.  
  • The relationship between racial groups and their socioeconomic status was analyzed  


Discussion and findings  


  • racial disparities are the consequences of protective and risk factors present at birth including SES, maternal age, paternal presence, and the child’s health 
  • Black children had the lowest birth weight compared to other racial groups, while children to Latino mothers born outside of the United States had the least number of birth abnormalities.  
  • Consistent with previous research, this study found that when compared to White children, Black children are at a higher risk of being referred for maltreatment, substantiated as victims, and placed in foster care.  
  • Latino children with U.S.-born mothers were more likely to be involved with CPS when compared to Latino children with foreign born mothers and White children.  
  • Consistent with the literature, significant differences were found in the distribution of risk and protective factors for Latino children with U.S.-born mothers compared to Black and White children 
  • contradictory of the literature, it was found that when socioeconomic status was analyzed, Black and Latino children from low SES families were significantly less likely than low SES White children to be referred, substantiated and removed from family home.  


Limitations/ Implications/ Conclusion  




  • 16% of CPS records meeting linkage inclusionary criteria were not matched to a birth record.  
  • the variables measured (e.g. public health insurance eligibility) at birth may have changed over time, consequently altering one’s risk factors.  
  • could not account for children who may have passed or moved away or measure more complex nuances.  
  • racial disparities found are observed explicitly at the forefront of the system. 




  • disparities cannot fully be accounted for by race; rather, it is the result of other factors that are often experienced by members of that race, such as one’s socioeconomic status. 




In conclusion, the racial disparities within the United States CPS have been explored and the findings suggest that the disparities are the consequences of more risk factors present at birth. To differentiate race-specific effects, especially when associated with maltreatment, it is necessary to adjust for risk and protective factors.