Potential for Latino-driven Increase in Foster Care Rolls, Study Suggests

Research released recently on California’s child welfare system projects the potential for future increases in foster care rolls, driven by the number of Latino children taken into foster care.

In most states, Latino children have historically been underrepresented in foster care relative to their numbers in the general population. But in differentiating between foreign-born mothers and American Latino mothers, the study found that children of the latter were over-represented in California’s foster care system.

“Latino children with U.S.-born mothers were referred, substantiated, and entered foster care at roughly 1.55 times the rate of White children,” according to the study – “A Population-Based Examination of Risk Factors for Involvement with Child Protective Services” – done by social work researchers at the universities of Southern California, California-Berkeley and Kansas.

In contrast, the study found, Latino children with foreign-born mothers were involved with the CPS system about half as frequently as white children.

Researchers predict that the overall growth of the Latino population, already the largest minority group in the United States, will continue to outpace that of any other group.

“Given their high fertility (2.9 children per woman in 2006) and youthful age structure (a median age of 27 compared to 41 for non-Hispanic whites), they will account for the lion’s share of the U.S. population growth for the next several,” said Ruben Rumbaut, in a paper entitled “Paradise Shift: Immigration, Mobility and Inequality in Southern California.”

As more generations of American-born Latino women have children, the number of Latino foster youth would presumably rise without a change in current trends.

“I’m not sure ‘swell’ is the right word,” said study co-author Emily Putnam-Hornstein, when asked about the possibility of increased foster care rolls. “But there’s no reason we wouldn’t see a Latino disparity with whites grow.”

The study authors do not attempt to explain any reasons for the different rates of involvement for foreign-born mothers and U.S.-born Latino mothers. It does point out that other studies have identified a number of protective factors – such as paternal presence at birth, religiosity and social supports – associated with foreign-born mothers.

A hypothesis known as “acculturation,” the study said, would predict the “erosion of protective factors with time spent in the United States and across generations, resulting in the deterioration of health outcomes.”

It is not the first research to suggest this trend. A 2007 report by the Urban Institute found the total numbers of Latino children in Texas foster care skewed heavily toward children of Latino-American parents:

  • Immigrant children: 1 percent of Texas’ foster care population, 7 percent of Texas’ child population
  • Children of immigrants: 8 percent of the foster care population, 20 percent of the total child population
  • Latino children born to Americans: 33 percent of the foster care population, 22 percent of Texas’ child population.

“These increases suggest more Latin American immigrants and immigrants’ children will come into contact with Child Protective Services” in Texas, the Urban study concluded.

The number of children in foster care on Sept. 30, 2011 was 400,540, over 100,000 less than there were in 2006 and 160,000 less than in 1999, according to data from the Adoption, Foster Care Analysis and Reporting Systems (AFCARS).

The California study linked the birth records of children born in 2002 to child protective services data from that year forward. This produced a clear record of nearly all the children from that year who were referred for maltreatment by age five.

The study was published in the research journal “Child Abuse and Neglect.”

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John Kelly
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John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.