Office of Children and Family Services

Racial Equity & Cultural Competence

Disproportionality and Disparity

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The words used to describe differences among children and families of different races here are “disproportionality” and “disparity.”

Disproportionality refers to the differences in the percentage of children of a certain racial or ethnic group in the country as compared to the percentage of the children of the same group in the child welfare system. For example, in 2000 Black children made up 15.1 percent of the children in this country but 36.6 percent of the children in the child welfare system.

Disparity means unequal treatment when comparing a racial or ethnic minority to a non-minority. This can be observed in many forms including decision points (e.g., reporting, investigation, substantiation, foster care placement, exit), treatment, services, or resources. Research shows that children of color in foster
care and their families are treated differently from—and often not as well as— White children and their families in the system. For example, fewer African American children receive mental health services even though the identified need for this type of service may be as great (or greater) for African Americans as for other racial or ethnic groups.

Disparity refers to the lack of equality among racial/ethnic groups in the likelihood of being arrested, admitted to detention, admitted to OCFS facilities and voluntary agencies, and in care.  The Disparity Rate Index (DRI) is the ratio of rate per 1000 for black (or Hispanic) children relative to rate for white children.

The Relative Rate Index (RRI) compares the rate of activity (number of events) in a given stage of the juvenile justice system to the rate of activity in a preceding stage, for black and Hispanic children relative to white children.

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