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African-Americans' and Child Protection Caseworkers' Definitions of Child Abuse: Cultural Competency Within Child Protection

20 July 2006


According to national statistics and research, African Americans are consistently overrepresented within the child protective service (CPS) system (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2002; Levine, Doueck, Freeman, & Compaan, 1996; Smith, 2004). Research also indicates that people often define child maltreatment based on their own cultural values (Chan, Elliot, Chow, & Thomas, 2002). This suggests that people of a dominant culture may evaluate parenting skills based on their own culture's definition, rather than that of the culture of the parent whom they are evaluating. To assess cultural differences in the determination of child abuse in African-American families by African Americans and Caucasians, this study incorporated quantitative and qualitative data regarding the responses of 24 African-American helping professionals and 66 CPS caseworkers of varying ethnicities to two parenting vignettes depicting possible child abuse scenarios. The two parenting vignettes differed by ethnicity with one depicting an African-American single mother and one a Caucasian single mother. Results indicated that the subject groups defined child abuse differently with the CPS caseworkers using a concrete, operationalized definition of the presence of a red mark on the child at least 24 hours following the use of physical punishment, while the African-American sample employed a broader definition incorporating more the behavior and intention of the child. Results further indicated that the CPS caseworkers did not define child abuse differently based on the ethnicity of the mother, while the African-American helping professionals defined the Caucasian mother as more abusive. The participants also filled out a standardized parenting measure (parental Authority Questionnaire-Revised) and an African-American Family Dynamics Scale (AAFDS). Similar to previous research 111 (Hines, Petro, McGoldrick, Almeida, & Weltman, 1999) the African-American helping professionals endorsed a more authoritarian parenting style, though the sample as a whole favored an authoritative parenting style. Qualitative data showed that the African-American helping professionals were more willing to condone parenting styles that included some physical discipline, particularly when the child was disrespectful toward his/her parents. The results of this study indicated that there are differences in how African Americans and Caucasians with similar education and backgrounds define child abuse in African-American families.


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