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Published by: Washington State Institute for Public Policy on Jun 02, 2011
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Washington State Institute for Public Policy 
110 Fifth Avenue Southeast, Suite 214
PO Box 40999
Olympia, WA 98504-0999
(360) 586-2677
FAX (360) 586-2793
www.wsipp.wa.gov
May 2011
S
TRUCTURED
D
ECISION
M
AKING
 ® 
 
R
ISK
A
SSESSMENT
:
 
D
OES
I
T
R
EDUCE
R
ACIAL
D
ISPROPORTIONALITY
I
N
W
ASHINGTON
S
C
HILD
W
ELFARE
S
YSTEM
?*
The 2007 Washington State Legislature created theWashington State Racial Disproportionality AdvisoryCommittee (Committee).
1
The Committee wascharged with determining if children of racial andethnic minorities were over-represented inWashington’s child welfare system. The WashingtonState Institute for Public Policy (Institute) providedtechnical assistance to the committee. Findingspublished in 2008 indicated that American Indian,Black, and Latino children were more likely thanWhite children in Washington to be the alleged victimsin referrals to Child Protective Services (CPS).
2
 Among children with CPS referrals, Indian and Blackchildren were more likely to be placed in foster careand more likely to remain in foster care for over twoyears than White children with CPS referrals.
3
 In 2009, based on recommendations in the Committeeremediation plan, the Legislature directed the Instituteto study the effects of implementation of Family TeamDecision Making (FTDM)
4
and Structured DecisionMaking
 ® 
(SDM) on racial disproportionality.
5
Findingsfor FTDM were published earlier.
6
This report focuseson findings for SDM.
* This report replaces the earlier title
Structured Decision Making® Risk Assessment: Does It Reduce Racial Disproportionality In Washington’s Child Welfare System? 
inorder to clarify that this evaluation includes only the SDM riskassessment, and not the entire SDM model.
1
Laws of 2007, Chapter 465, SHB 1472
2
M. Miller. (2008).
Racial disproportionality in Washington State’s child welfare system 
. Olympia: Washington StateInstitute for Public Policy, Document No. 08-06-3901.
3
Throughout this report, we use the term foster care to meanremoval from home to placement in licensed foster homes,group homes, or the care of unlicensed relatives.
4
Under the FTDM model, facilitated meetings are convenedwhenever child placement decisions are made. Attendeesinclude parents and other family members, the child (whenappropriate), friends, foster parents, caseworkers, and otherprofessionals involved with the case.
5
Laws of 2009, Ch. 213, ESSB 5882
6
M. Miller. (2011).
Family Team Decision Making: Does it reduce racial disproportionality in Washington’s child welfare system? 
Olympia: Washington State Institute for Public Policy,Document No. 11-03-3901.
Summary
In 2008, the Washington State Institute for Public Policy(Institute), together with the Washington State RacialDisproportionality Advisory Committee, studied racialdisproportionality in Washington’s child welfare system. Wefound that following referrals to Child Protective Services(CPS), Indian and Black children (but not Asian or Latinochildren) were more likely to be placed and remain in fostercare significantly longer than White children.The Structured Decision Making (SDM) model is a system ofassessment tools used at various decision points in the childwelfare system. DSHS Children’s Administration adopted theSDM risk assessment, but not any other SDM tools. The riskassessment is used during CPS investigations to classifyfamilies on their risk of further child maltreatment.The 2009 Legislature directed the Institute to study theeffects of SDM on racial disproportionality.
Findings
Between 2004 and 2008, we found marked year-to-yearvariation in disproportionality following CPS referrals(Disproportionality Index After Referral: DIAR), especially forBlack children. This variation can be partly explained by ratesof referral that also differed from year to year.Our analysis took advantage of the fact that SDM wasimplemented statewide in October 2007. We assumed that ifSDM affected outcomes for children, we would see the effect ofSDM by comparing outcomes for children with referrals in 2008with those of children with referrals in earlier years.When our analysis combined children of all races, we observedno effect of SDM on:
 
Out-of-home placements, or
 
New reports to CPS.We also analyzed outcomes for each race separately. ForWhite, Indian, Asian, and Latino children we found no effectof SDM on placements or new CPS reports.Black children with referrals in 2008 were more likely to beremoved from home and more likely to have new CPSreferrals than Black children with referrals in earlier years.We cannot be certain that the SDM risk assessment was thecause of the differences in 2008; differences may also be theproduct of the largely unexplained year-to-year fluctuations indisproportionality for Black children.
 
2
In this report, we provide a brief description of SDM andits implementation in Washington State. We describeresearch findings regarding racial disproportionality,effects of SDM on rates of out-of-home placements,and rates of subsequent reports to CPS.
BACKGROUND
Most children enter the child welfare system when areport is made to CPS about alleged child abuse orneglect. These reports are called “referrals.” On thebasis of the report, referrals may be accepted forinvestigation. Based on the findings of investigations,children may be placed in foster care, or families maybe provided services while children remain at home.The Structured Decision Making® (SDM) model is asystem of six assessment tools developed by theChildren’s Research Center
7
for use at variousdecision points in the child welfare system.Children’s Administration adopted the riskassessment tool, but none of the other SDMinstruments. Throughout the remainder of this reportwe use the term “SDM” to refer only to the riskassessment tool. However, the current evaluationshould not be used to judge the effectiveness of the
entire
SDM model.The first SDM risk assessment was developed foruse in Alaska in the late 1980s.
8
SDM is used duringthe CPS investigation to classify families based onthe likelihood of future maltreatment. The SDM riskassessment is actuarially based; that is, it wasoriginally developed using data from Child ProtectiveServices (CPS) investigations to identify thosecharacteristics most associated with futuremaltreatment, as measured by new reports to CPS.It uses objective measures that may be less sensitiveto bias than other approaches to estimating risk. TheSDM assessment currently in use in Washington wasdeveloped in California, using information about theCalifornia CPS caseload.
 
7
 
The Children’s Research Center (CRC) is a division of theNational Center on Crime and Delinquency. The CRC islocated in Madison WI.
8
K. Johnson & A. Bogie. (2009).
North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services risk assessment validation: Aprospective study 
. Madison, WI: Children’s Research Center.
Social workers complete the SDM form as they conductthe CPS investigation. After tallying results, families areclassified on the basis of risk of future maltreatment intofour categories: low, moderate, moderately high, andhigh risk. Given limited resources, such classification“allows child welfare workers to ensure that higher riskchildren not requiring foster care placement receive in-home services before lower-risk children.”
9
 Prior to October 2007, the DSHS Children’sAdministration (CA) used a consensus-based
10
riskinstrument (Washington Risk Assessment Matrix,WRM), to assess risk of future maltreatment at thetime of a CPS investigation. A study later revealedthat the WRM was not a good predictor of futureabuse or neglect. For example, families classified ashigh risk were less likely to have new CPS reportsthan those classified as moderate risk.
11
A studypublished in 2000 compared SDM with the WRM andanother consensus based assessment. That studyfound SDM was better than either of the consensus-based instruments at indentifying families most likelyto have new reports to CPS and distinguishing them
9
W. Johnson. (2011). The validity and utility of the Californiafamily risk assessment under practice conditions in the files: Aprospective study.
Child Abuse and Neglect,
 
35 
(1), 18-28.
10
Consensus-based risk assessments are generally createdusing elements thought by experts and practitioners to beassociated with increased risk of future maltreatment. That is, thefactors included in the assessment are based on opinion and notnecessarily empirical evidence.
11
D. English, D. Marshall, S. Brummel, & M. Orme. (1999).Characteristics of repeated referrals to child protective services inWashington State.
Child Maltreatment,
 
(4), 297-307.
S
TUDY
L
ANGUAGE
F
ROM THE
2009
 
L
EGISLATURE
 “…the Washington state institute for public policy shall evaluate the department of social and health services' use of structured decision- making practices and implementation of the family team decision-making model to determine whether and how those child protection and child welfare efforts result in reducing disproportionate representation of African-American, Native American, and Latino children in the state's child welfare system.” 
Laws of 2009, Ch.213, ESSB 5882,
(Emphasis added)
 
3
from families who would not.
12
Based in part onthese findings, in October 2007, the Children’sAdministration (CA) replaced the WRM with the SDMrisk assessment.In the Institute’s 2008 report to the Committee, wefound that, compared with White children, AmericanIndian, Black, and Latino children were over-represented in Washington’s child welfare system.
13
 Much of the disproportionality occurred at the point ofreferral to CPS. After referral to CPS, Indian andBlack children were at greater risk of removal fromhome and long-term foster care than White children.Because SDM is used only in conjunction with CPSinvestigations, any effect on racial disproportionalityshould be observed at the point of removal fromhome.In addition to studying effects of SDM on rates of out-of-home placements, the Committee also asked us tostudy whether the use of SDM was related toreductions in the rates of new CPS referrals.
STUDY APPROACH
For this report, we asked three questions.1) Did racial disproportionality vary across theyears 2004 through 2008? The Institute’s firstanalysis of racial disproportionality
14
focusedon the cohort of children with referrals in2004. As background for this report, weinvestigated whether disproportionality wasconstant between 2004 and 2008.2) Did CA’s implementation of the SDM riskassessment affect the rate of out-of-homeplacements? Did SDM reduce racialdisproportionality at placement?3) Did implementation of the SDM riskassessment reduce the rates of subsequentCPS referrals accepted for investigation?Our approach to the analysis took advantage of thefact that SDM was implemented on a single day
12
C. Baird & D. Wagner. (2000). The relative validity of actuarial-and consensus-based risk assessment systems.
Children and Youth Services Review 
,
22 
(11/12), 839-871.
13
Miller, 2008
14
Ibid.
statewide in October 2007. Because SDM is usedonly with the CPS investigation, if the riskassessment affected disproportionality, we shouldobserve less disproportionality at the point of childremoval from home. In our analysis, we comparedoutcomes for children with referrals in 2008, afterimplementation of SDM, with those of childrenreferred in 2004 through 2007.SDM classifies families based on risk of future childabuse or neglect. To determine whetherimplementing SDM reduced the likelihood of futureCPS referrals, we identified children with CPSinvestigations in the first three months of 2007 (beforeSDM) and 2008 (after SDM). We then comparedrates of new CPS referrals during a six-month follow-up period.
DATA SOURCES
 
The Children’s Administration ManagementInformation System (CAMIS) was the source forreferrals, accepted referrals, and placements (childrenremoved from home. We analyzed data for childrenwith CPS referrals in the first six months of each yearfrom 2004 through 2008.
15
 State food stamp records were used to determine ifa child’s family had been receiving food stamps atthe time of the CPS referral. Receipt of food stampswas used as a measure of family poverty in theregression analyses.Population estimates by age and by county wereobtained from Washington’s Office of FinancialManagement.
Defining Race
.
 
Race is a complex concept thatcarries many cultural interpretations. Individuals mayhave more than one racial or ethnic heritage. In the2000 census, respondents could choose as manyraces/ethnicities as were necessary to describethemselves.
16
While most Americans described
15
Children’s Administration transitioned to a new data system,FamLink, in February 2009. We did not use FamLink datahere, because we were unable to link referrals to placements.
16
U.S. Census Bureau. (2001).
Census brief: Two or more races, population 2000 
. Washington, D.C: Department of

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