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What’s Really Behind Black Child-Abuse Stats

What’s Really Behind Black Child-Abuse Stats
Katti Gray, The Root | March 24, 2011

Rates of reported child abuse are disproportionately high for black children, a fact that has long been linked to suspected racial bias by a largely white child-protection workforce. But a recently released study by Washington University researchers debunks that allegation, citing poverty as the main reason black children are twice as likely as white children to suffer abuse.

Published in the March issue of the journal Pediatrics, the study, “Racial Bias in Child Protection? A Comparison of Competing Explanations Using National Data,” does note the importance of policing potential racial bias among teachers, doctors, nurses, law-enforcement officials, child-protective-services workers and other primary reporters of abuse. But the researchers argue that the broader focus should be on mitigating poverty, given that a third of black children are living below the federal government’s poverty line. Economic uplift is likely to curb abuse, concluded the team of six researchers from the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., the University of Maryland School of Social Work and the American Humane Association.

“We knew [abuse of] black kids was reported about twice as often as it was for white kids, and we were concerned that that might be due to racism. We also knew black kids, in terms of economics, were facing a lot of problems that most white kids were not facing,” said Washington University social work professor Brett Drake, Ph.D., lead author of the study. Instead of looking at a fractional sample of reported cases of abuse, which was the methodology of prior studies, Drake and his colleagues analyzed the total counts in different categories of abuse.

“We didn’t create any of this data; we just went to national reports, Census Bureau reports and areas such as that,” Drake told The Root. “We tried super, super hard to avoid data that absolutely wasn’t rock solid.”  (Read more)