Racial/ethnic disproportionality in reunification across U.S. child welfare systems

Catherine A. LaBrenz, Erin Findley, Genevieve Graaf, Philip Baiden, Jangmin Kim, Mi Jin Choi, Sreyashi Chakravarty - Child Abuse & Neglect



Racial/ethnic disparities are persistent in referrals and removals of children into child welfare systems. Yet, less is known about disparities in reunification, and how system factors may contribute to more equitable outcomes for families of color.


This study examined racial/ethnic disparities in reunification rates across U.S. child welfare systems controlling for child- and system-factors.

Participants and setting

Data for this study came from the 2017 Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS). We utilized a subsample of n = 284,382 children ages 0–5.


We used a bottom-up model building-approach to examine child- and system-factors associated with reunification. A series of multilevel models were run.


Less than 3% of the variance in reunification occurred between state child welfare systems. Native American children had lower odds of reunification than White children (AOR = 0.87, p < .001), while Hispanic children had higher odds of reunification (AOR = 1.08, p < .001). Random effects were present for race/ethnicity and interaction terms between race/ethnicity and parental drug use were significant.


Racial/ethnic disparities are present in reunification, though these may vary across child welfare systems. Thus, future research could examine state systems that have better outcomes for families of color and examine factors that might explain these relationships.