Disproportionality FAQ

Skip to Content


Use the following links to quickly jump to the desire location in the page.


You are on this page: Disproportionality FAQ

FAQ on Disproportionality and Data Analysis in Child Welfare

What is disproportionality in child welfare?

Disproportionality in child welfare occurs when a racial or ethnic group is involved with the child welfare system at any point of contact in the continuum of care at a significantly higher or lower rate than other groups. Contact points include child maltreatment reports, investigations, out-of-home placement, termination of parental rights or other decision points in the child welfare continuum.

Does disporportionality exist in my agency? And if so, how big of a problem is it?

The only way to know is to undertake a carefu analysis of the data about how children of different racial and ethnic backgrounds are proceeding through your child welfare system. A calculation called the relative rate index or RRI is used to determine if significant differences or overrepresentation exist across groups. This calculation only tells us if there are differences, the relative rate of overrepresentation, and can target the rate for each decision making point if disproportionality is present. More examination is needed to understand why disproportionality exists and to guide decisions about interventions.

To learn more about the relative rate calculation see: ojjdp.ncjrs.gov/dmc/pdf/dmc2003.pps

Will my agency be made vulnerable by obtaining these data?

Your agency will be made vulnerable by not gathering these data. Data are an organized set of facts. By gathering and analyzing data, you will be able to generate a credible, evidence-base to support future policies, practices and actions Accurate data will assist you in conducting the important work of your agency and ultimately your ability to protect children and families.

What does analysis entail?

Analysis entails examination of measures at various points in the system to determine where disproportionality is present and where it is not. Analysis can reveal where possible strengths and gaps appear in a system. Analysis can be conducted using administrative data or other data such as those from cohorts, samples of cases, census data, interviews of key partners and stakeholders, and other methods of data collection and analysis that can be determined by the unique needs and characteristics of your agency.

How long will it take to do this analysis?

An initial assessment using administrative data can be conducted in a relatively short amount of time, usually in less than two months. Further analysis takes an investment of time and attention to the issues and typically involves stages such as identification, assessment, intervention, evaluation and monitoring. A more complex analysis, engaging community stakeholders and focusing on utilizing data to inform practice and policy through a framework of continuous quality improvement, may evolve over several years.

How will I know that my agency is ready to address this issue?

If the question is being asked by the community, key stakeholders, regulating organizations, or by you, it is time to begin your analysis. Inevitably, differing levels of investment in examination and remediation of the issue exist; these can be addressed by careful and strategic partnering throughout the analysis. Many agencies find that analysis becomes part of intervention, and that engaging stakeholders at all levels, especially from the top, from the beginning greatly improves the ease of developing and implementing new strategies. When everyone involved takes ownership for achieving results for children, everyone will be invested in developing the solutions.

What will the outcome be?

The outcome of the analysis will be policies and practices that ensure the provision of timely and appropriate services to the children who are in need of those services. Ultimately, the goal is equal opportunities for positive outcomes for all vulnerable children, regardless of race or ethnicity. This could indicate the potential that a group of children may not be getting an equal opportunity for positive outcomes in safety, permanency and well being that may be attributable in some part to race or ethnicity. Disproportionality is generally thought to be an issue which is complex, but which can be understood and corrected.

©American Public Human Services Association, Washington, DC, 2007