Aren’t they just black kids? Biracial children in the child

Aren’t they just black kids? Biracial children in the child
welfare system
Rachel A. Fusco*, Mary E. Rauktis*, Julie S. McCrae*, Michael A. Cunningham† and
Cynthia K. Bradley-King*
*School of Social Work, †Department of Biostatistics, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Rachel A. Fusco,
School of Social Work,
University of Pittsburgh,
4200 Fifth Ave,
Pittsburgh, PA 15217,
E-mail: [email protected]
Keywords: child abuse, child
protection (policy and practice),
minority ethnic families, race
Accepted for publication: February
In the USA, African-American children are overrepresented in the
child welfare system. However, little is known about the child welfare
system experiences of biracial children, who are predominately both
White and African-American. To better understand this population,
data from public child welfare in a US county were used to examine
biracial children in the child welfare system. Results showed significant racial differences between children in the child welfare system.
Despite the common belief that biracial children will have experiences similar to African-American children, the child welfare system
seems to view them differently. Biracial children are more likely to be
referred, rated as high risk and investigated compared with White or
African-American children. Their mothers were younger, and were
more often assessed as having physical, intellectual or emotional
problems. These caregivers were also considered to have lower
parenting skills and knowledge compared with White or AfricanAmerican caregivers. Although the disproportionate representation of
African-American children in the system has been well documented,
this study provides evidence that biracial children are also overrepresented. Despite the fact that this is a rapidly growing population in
the USA, there is little research available about biracial children and
their families.
It is only in the last 40 years that whites and ethnic
minorities could legally marry in the USA. In 1967,
the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Loving v.
Virginia that anti-miscegenation laws were a violation
of individual civil rights and held that language prohibiting marriage between people of different races
should be struck from states’ constitutions. Although
the number of interracial marriages has increased
since that ruling, they still comprise less than 5% of all
marriages in the USA. (US Bureau of the Census
2007). Many African-Americans are of mixed race,
and historically, these individuals were born to
African-American mothers outside of marriage
(Collins 2001). Under the ‘one drop rule’ that long
existed in the USA, individuals with any known
Child and Family Social Work 2010, 15, pp 441–451
African ancestry or ‘a single drop’ were legally designated as black (Roth 2005). These children were
absorbed with their mothers into the AfricanAmerican community (Williamson 1980; Davis
1991). However, the end of anti-miscegenation laws
has led to an increase of biracial children born to
white mothers, thus changing the official categorizations of racial categories to include ‘interracial’.
Research on identity determination has primarily
focused on transracial adoptions (Samuels 2009) and
black-white intermarried couples (Roth 2005). Less
clear is how children born to custodial white mothers
fit into an existing racial category and how this may
associate with factors known to predict involvement in
the child welfare system.
The extant literature on interracial couples suggests
that they experience social isolation and disapproval
© 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
Biracial children in child welfare R A Fusco et al.
because of their relationship. Gaines (2001) found that
these couples were frequently ostracized from their
families of origin and some couples hid their relationship from friends and family (Wang et al. 2006). Interracial couples often experience housing discrimination
(Onwuachi-Willig & Willig-Onwuachi 2009) and each
partner is also likely to experience racism regarding
their partner in their own community (Byrd & Garwick
2006). There is even some evidence that interracial
couples are more likely to experience intimate partner
violence (Hattery 2008), and violence within these
relationships is more chronic and severe than violence
between couples of the same race (Fusco 2010). Children of interracial relationships are likely to experience
racism in the school playground through name calling
and other forms of verbal aggression (Tizard &
Phoenix 1993). The presence of institutional racism
and the American ideal of the monoracial family can
result in interracial families becoming isolated and
marginalized. Given that the risks such as low social
support and domestic violence contribute to a family’s
involvement in the child welfare system, it is surprising
that there is little research from the USA about the
involvement of biracial children with child welfare
services and the child and parent factors that may lead
to entry into care.
What is known about biracial children in child
welfare comes primarily from studies conducted in
the UK. The higher rate of entry into the child
welfare system for mixed-parentage children became
evident there as early as the 1950s (National Children’s Home 1954; Foren & Batta 1970; Gill &
Jackson 1983; Small 1986; Barn 1990; Barn et al.
1997). A 1989 study by Bebbington and Miles
showed that a mixed-parentage child was more than
twice as likely to enter the system as a white child. A
more recent study found that 8% of children involved
in the UK child welfare system were of mixed parentage (Owen & Statham 2009) even though these
children represented only 3% of all children under
age 18 (Office for National Statistics 2001).
In one of the most comprehensive studies to date,
Barn (1999) examined the demographic and social
profiles of white women involved with black men and
explored the reasons why biracial children came into
the UK’s child welfare system. The most common
biracial family structure was a never-married white
women and a non-resident black-Caribbean father.
The mothers were the primary caretaker of the children, were often unemployed and lived in public
housing. The referrals came from the families themselves and difficulties in family relationships and
Child and Family Social Work 2010, 15, pp 441–451
parental neglect/inadequacy were the two major
reasons for family breakdown and entry into care.
Interestingly, mixed-parentage children were found to
be particularly vulnerable in areas where there was a
small black population (Bebbington & Miles 1989).
Several themes underlie the limited research into
the reasons for why mixed-race children in the UK
came into the child welfare system. The lack of social
support and isolation appears to be a common experience (Barn 1999; Harman 2008). Social disapproval
from family and both the black and white communities isolates these mothers during a period when they
are most in need of support. Isolation can have a
deleterious effect on their mental health and wellbeing (Banks 1996; Twine 1999). The lack of social
support is thought by some to be a contributing factor
to the high number of children entering care (Barn
1999). Racism is prevalent and often expressed
through verbal abuse such as degrading comments
about a white woman’s sexual relationship with a
black man (Tizard & Phoenix 1993; Harman 2007)
or in complaints to authorities about the family
(Hartcliffe and Withywood Black Support Group
1993), vandalism and physical threats. Poverty is also
a factor, although it alone does not account for the
particular vulnerability of the mixed-race family.
Harman (2008) conducted a qualitative study of
social workers’ perceptions of the experiences and
supports of lone mothers of mixed-parentage children in England. Her hypothesis was that social
workers’ views about the mothers’ circumstances
would have an important bearing on the support provided. In addition to the factors found in earlier
research, social workers often provided support to the
mothers in managing the hair and skin care of the
children both of which have been described as important indicators of maternal competence (Ali 2003).
The social workers in the study identified that the
mothers were often reluctant to engage with social
services, perhaps because of fears of being seen as
inadequate because they were white. Another important theme that emerged was that of the social worker’s understanding of the attitudes that the mother
held about race and what this meant for the child’s
identity. Lack of interest about the child’s heritage
was perceived by the social workers as racist as well
as more obvious negative feelings and statements
about the race of the father. Finally, this study highlighted the social workers perception of the identity
of the mixed-race child. While the workers used a
range of terminology to describe the children’s heritage, the dominant perspective was that the children
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Biracial children in child welfare R A Fusco et al.
had an overall social and political location as black
children.Yet her interviews with the mothers revealed
that the majority of them described their children as
‘mixed race’. As Harman notes, additional research is
needed to explore whether this difference in perspective impacts the helping relationship and if it is a
source of tension.
The review of the research from the UK suggests
that mixed-parentage families are vulnerable and that
the reasons for entry into care are numerous and
complex. There is far less written about this group
in child welfare research from the USA. According to
the 2005–2007 American Community Survey, the
number of people who identify as mixed race rose to
approximately 6 million, making it the country’s
fastest-growing demographic during that period (US
Bureau of the Census 2007). Although the USA is
becoming a more diverse nation, racial disproportionalities exist in many areas, including child welfare
services (Dunbar & Barth 2008; Kohl 2007; Wulczyn
& Lery 2007). There is a growing body of research
documenting the extent of disproportionate numbers
of children of colour in child welfare (Derezotes et al.
2005; Hill 2006; Kohl 2007). Despite research
showing that child maltreatment is unrelated to
race or ethnicity (Sedlak & Schulz 2005), AfricanAmerican families are overrepresented in their referral
to child protective services (Fluke et al. 2003; Lemon
et al. 2005). An analysis of data from five states
revealed that African-Americans were twice as likely
to be investigated as whites (Fluke et al. 2003). Most
unequivocal are findings that African-American children are overrepresented among children in foster
care. In the year 2000, every state showed disproportionate rates of African-American children entering
foster care, with rates that range from 1.58 to more
than 65 times the rate of white children (Vandergrift
Less clear is whether the same disparity patterns
exist for children of two or more races. Is this group of
children and youth experiencing the same level of
disparity and disproportionality in child welfare services as that of African-American children and youth?
This exploratory study seeks to answer this important
question by examining the referral and service paths
of biracial children to child welfare services in a large
urban county in the north-east. This county has a
growing population of biracial children and it is
unclear if their involvement with child welfare services
is similar to that of African-American children or to
that of white children. Therefore, this paper aims to
answer the following questions:
Child and Family Social Work 2010, 15, pp 441–451
1 Are biracial children referred to child welfare services at a rate proportionate to white and AfricanAmerican children?
2 Are the risks assessed for biracial children and
parents the same as those assessed for white and
African-American children?
3 Are biracial children investigated at the same rate
as white and African-American children? Although
several terms are used in the literature to describe
children of more than one race (e.g. mixed parentage,
multiracial), in this study the term ‘biracial’ refers to
having parents of two different races.
This study is focused on a large urban county in the
north-eastern USA. In the 2000 census, multiracial
children represented 2.4% of all children under the
age of 18 in the county (Kids Count 2006). By 2007,
children of two or more races living in the county had
increased to 3.9% (US Bureau of the Census 2007).
US Census data on race come from self-reports, and
individuals can choose more than one race (US
Bureau of the Census 2007).
The study aimed to view CWS service patterns among
a representative sample of children referred to CWS in
2006. To do so, the desired sample size was calculated
to have the ability to observe a 1.5-fold increase in the
odds of a non-white child’s case being investigated
compared with baseline after adjusting for other
covariates in a logistic regression model. Assuming a
baseline investigation rate of approximately 70%, a
correlation of 0.05 between race and all other modelled covariates, and assuming 50% of the children in
the database are white, it was determined that 520
children must be sampled (Hosmer & Lemeshow
A stratified sampling design was utilized. Strata
were defined by the gender, race, age group and type
of report: Child Protective Services or General Protective Service (GPS). There were 7849 children and
youth under the age of 18 referred to CWS in 2006.
Variables related to gender, race or both were missing
for 354 children, resulting in a final sampling frame of
7495 unique children.The required sample size of 520
was then allocated across the strata using proportional
allocation, where the sample size within a stratum
© 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
Biracial children in child welfare R A Fusco et al.
is assigned proportional to the stratum size. The
required number of children to sample in each
stratum was rounded up to the next highest integer or
if the calculated sample size for a stratum was less than
two: two children were selected resulting in a final
sample size of 544 children. The survey select procedure in SAS software version 9.1 (SAS Institute 2004)
was used to randomly sample the children (using
simple random sampling without replacement) within
each stratum.
Tabulation of the sampled records following field
data collection revealed several strata with an insufficient number of observations (less than two). These
strata were collapsed by age category to obtain a sufficient number of records. Each child’s final sample
weight was calculated from the base weight and
adjustment for non-response. The base weight is the
total number of children per stratum divided by the
required sample size per stratum, or the inverse of
the child’s probability of selection. The final weight,
adjusted for non-response, is the total number of children per stratum divided by the number of children
actually sampled per stratum. The final weight is used
in subsequent analyses. In the analyses, data on the
final sample of 460 children are weighted to sum to
7495, the population referred to CWS in 2006.
Data collection
Data sources consisted of (1) administrative and
demographic data maintained by the county and (2)
referral and risk assessment information collected
from case files. Two research assistants were supervised by the principal investigators, and data collection occurred between May and October 2008. Data
were missing or unable to be located (primarily risk
assessments or referrals) in 84 records so that the total
number of complete child records was 460.These data
were checked for accuracy and then merged with
the administrative data so that a complete data set
(demographics, referral, intake, referral and risk) was
Referral/intake form
Referral data are collected at the time of the referral by
the individuals screening the calls. These data include
child age and gender, number of adults and children
in the home, maltreatment type, prior CWS history,
prior child abuse hotline reports and an overall risk
rating for the referral.
Child and Family Social Work 2010, 15, pp 441–451
Risk assessment
The risk assessment used is a consensus-based
measure of risk in which the worker assigns a ranking
score of none, low, moderate or high risk to 15 child,
caregiver and family items. Child items include vulnerability, severity and recentness of abuse/neglect,
prior abuse or neglect and the extent of emotional
harm. Caregiver items are age, physical, intellectual or
emotional status, parenting skills and knowledge, substance use, access to children, prior abuse and neglect
and the relationship with the children. Family environment is scored on the presence of violence, the
condition of the home and the presence of supports
and stressors. A score is also assigned to the overall
severity and the overall risk.Workers are trained in the
risk assessment using a standard curriculum and must
receive a passing score in using it to assess risk in a
video vignette. Workers who do not achieve a passing
score receive remedial training.
Data analysis
To understand rates of disproportionality in the county’s child welfare system, a Disproportionality Index
(DI) was calculated. First, a rate per 1000 children
was computed for each racial group at referral and
investigation. This was the number of AfricanAmerican children, for example, referred to CWS
divided by the total number of African-American children in the population under age 18 in the county
according to census. Next, the rates were compared in
relation to white children. The rate for AfricanAmerican children was then divided by the rate for
white children. Bivariate chi-square tests of association, and multivariable, logistic regression analyses
were used to predict the likelihood of case investigation given child race and other child and family characteristics. For all analyses, sampling weights were
used to infer to the total population of children who
were the target of a referral to CWS in 2006. SAS
software version 9.1 (SAS Institute 2004) was used for
all analyses.
The sample included 56 children coded as biracial in
the CWS system. In 70% of these cases, the child was
parented by a white mother and an African-American
father. About 11% of the children had African-
© 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
Biracial children in child welfare R A Fusco et al.
Figure 1 Age differences among
groups at referral.
American mothers and white fathers. Somewhat
unexpectedly, about 18% of the mothers identified as
biracial themselves, although the racial breakdowns
are not available. Among mothers who are identified
as biracial, 50% had children with an AfricanAmerican father and the other 50% of the fathers were
white or Hispanic. Roughly 1% of the sample had
missing data for the mother and/or father’s race.
Table 1 Disproportionality index
Rate compared with white children
Child race
Differences among groups at referral
As shown in Fig. 1, biracial children were significantly
younger at the time of the referral compared with
other children (P = 0.03). Well over one-third of biracial children (38%) were younger than age 5 compared with 24% of African-American children and
28% of white children. The percentage of biracial
children decreases as the children grow older.
African-American children were referred to CWS
with a significantly greater number of other children
listed in the home at the time of intake compared with
white and biracial children. Over one-third of AfricanAmerican children were referred to CWS with four or
more other children (39%) compared with 20% of
white children and 25% of biracial children. Biracial
children had the highest rates of having a teenager as
a parent (11%), while African-American families have
the highest rates of previous referrals to CWS (69%)
compared with 58% of white children and 49% of
biracial children.
Disproportionality rates
In 2006, 37% of the children referred to CWS were
African-American although African-American children make up 18% of the total population of children
in the county (Kids Count 2006). White children and
youth composed 51% of children referred to CWS in
2006 and their representation in the population is
77%. Biracial children were 12% of the children
referred and 2% of the county’s child population.
Child and Family Social Work 2010, 15, pp 441–451
The DI (Table 1) displays the rates for referral,
investigation and service for African-American and
biracial children relative to white children. As seen in
Table 1, the rates are disproportionate, with AfricanAmerican children being referred at three times the
rate and biracial children being referred at four times
the rate compared with white children. Investigation
rates among the races are similar, with slightly higher
rates for biracial children.
Differences in risk assessment
Taken as a group, a relatively small proportion of the
total cases were rated as high risk (2%), compared
with moderate (54%) and low (44%). It is unclear
whether this is a true representation of the risks or
whether it is because of rater drift or agency culture
that impacts how workers use the risk assessment. In
the subsequent analyses, moderate and high-risk
ratings were combined.
The most frequently rated moderate-to-high risk
factors for all children were child vulnerability (65%),
caregiver impairment (43%) and access to children
(37%). The least common moderate-to-high risk
factors were emotional harm (4%), home condition
(8%) and family supports (10%; Table 2). Child vulnerability is highly correlated with child age, suggesting that this risk is primarily an indicator of younger
Table 2 shows the proportion of children rated with
moderate or high risk for each risk assessment item by
© 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
Biracial children in child welfare R A Fusco et al.
Table 2 Proportion of children with moderate or high ratings on risk assessment domains by child race
Moderate or high risk (%)
(n = 98)
(n = 142)
(n = 38)
(n = 278)
Child factors
Severity/recency of abuse or neglect
Prior abuse or neglect
Emotional harm
Caregiver factors
Age, physical, intellectual or emotional status*
Parenting skills/knowledge*
Substance abuse
Access to children
Prior abuse or neglect*
Relationship with child
Family violence
Home condition
Family supports
Overall severity
Overall risk
Risk assessment domain
Note: Analyses are weighted. The total sample n is 460, which represents 7495 children. Of the 460 children referred, 309 were
investigated. Thirty-one children were missing risk assessments.
*Significantly related to child race/ethnicity in bivariate analyses (P ⱕ 0.05).
race. A significantly higher proportion of biracial children (64%) are rated as having moderate to high risk
in terms of caregiver age, physical, intellectual and
emotional status, compared with African-American
(44%) and white children (37%). Parents of biracial
children had the highest rates of moderate to high-risk
parenting skills and knowledge (36%) compared with
22% of African-American and 15% of white children.
African-American children have the highest rates of
moderate-to-high risk ratings regarding previous
abuse or neglect (33%) compared with 13% of white
children and 20% of biracial children. No other
risk assessment characteristics varied significantly by
child race.
Differences in investigation and service
Table 3 displays the results of logistic regression analyses predicting case investigation according to referral
characteristics. Child race significantly predicted case
investigation, with African-American children less
likely to be investigated compared with white children
[odds ratio (OR) = 0.70, P < 0.05].This differs from the
findings of prior research in which investigation rates
Child and Family Social Work 2010, 15, pp 441–451
for African-American children were greater than for
white children (Fluke et al. 2003). Biracial children
were twice as likely to be investigated compared with
white children (OR = 2.27, P < 0.05). Children referred
to CWS along with four or more other children were
more likely to be investigated (OR = 3.13; P < 0.05), as
were children with two adults listed at referral (OR =
4.66, P < 0.001).When there were three or more adults
in the household, the case was less likely to be investigated. Children living in poverty, measured by the child
having a history of receiving temporary assistance to
needy families, were twice as likely to be investigated
compared with children who did not have a history of
public assistance (OR = 1.99, P < 0.05). Finally, compared with referral allegations of ‘other’, children
whose allegation was ‘evaluation request’ were significantly less likely to be investigated (OR = 0.11, P <
0.001). Allegations of ‘other’ were the most likely to be
investigated, when all factors were considered. These
include acting out or youth with mental health problems, truancy, positive maternal substance use, emotional maltreatment and homelessness. In this analysis,
the type of referral, GPS or child abuse hotline, was not
a significant predictor.
© 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
Biracial children in child welfare R A Fusco et al.
Table 3 Results of logistic
regression analyses predicting
case investigation
Independent variable (reference group)
Odds of investigation
Child age (15–17 years)
0–4 years
5–9 years
10–14 years
Child gender (female)
Child race/ethnicity (white)
No of children at intake (one)
Two to three
Four or more
No of adults at intake (one)
Three or more
Child TANF since July 2002 (no)
Referral reason (other)
Physical or sexual abuse
Evaluation request
Prior reports or CYF (No)
Referral type (not ChildLine)
Note: Odds ratios shown are adjusted for all other variables in the table.
*P ⱕ 0.05. **P ⱕ 0.01. ***P ⱕ 0.001.
CYF, Children, Youth and Families; SE, standard error; TANF, temporary assistance to
needy families.
In summary, the multivariable results give a picture
of the factors that predict who are opened for investigation. Cases in which there are younger children,
households with more children, lower income and two
adults living in the home are more likely to be investigated. Biracial children are significantly more likely
to be investigated than either white or AfricanAmerican children.
Results show that there are significant racial differences between children in the county’s CWS system.
Although the disproportionate representation of
African-American children in the system has been
well documented, this study provides evidence that
biracial children are also overrepresented. Despite the
fact that this is a rapidly growing population in the
US, there is little research available about biracial
children and their families.
Biracial children in the county under study were
much more likely to be referred to CWS than either
white or African-American children. Their cases were
Child and Family Social Work 2010, 15, pp 441–451
also more likely to be investigated. A finding that is
then unexpected is that biracial children were actually
less likely to have a prior history than AfricanAmerican children. It has been well documented that
a prior history of maltreatment is a risk factor for
future maltreatment (e.g. Baird 1988; Baird et al.
1993; DePanfilis & Zuravin 1999; D. DePanfilis, University of Maryland, Baltimore, MD, unpublished).
A distinctive picture of the caregivers of biracial
children emerged from this research. Caregivers of
biracial children were most often biological mothers
who were white. These mothers of biracial children
were younger, and were more often assessed as having
physical, intellectual or emotional problems. These
caregivers were also considered to have lower parenting skills and knowledge compared with white or
African-American caregivers. Although fathers were
often identified as a second adult in the risk assessment, the study was not able to determine solely from
the records if the mothers of the biracial children in
this study were living with or married to the child’s
father at the time of the report in 2006. However,
some interracial couples continue to experience
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Biracial children in child welfare R A Fusco et al.
disapproving reactions from family, friends and
acquaintances even after the relationship has ended
(Root 2001).
Case studies of interracial couples report that these
couples experience difficulty in integrating within
larger familial and social networks. Hibbler & Shinew
(2002) report that African-American–white couples
limit their recreational activities because of perceived
racial discrimination. African-American men with
white partners in particular have reported having their
racial identities challenged and being accused of disloyalty after partnering with a white woman (Byrd &
Garwick 2006), and Rosenblatt et al. (1995) found
that the most frequently mentioned reaction to
interracial couples was resentment on the part of
African-American women to partnerships between
African-American men and white women. In light of
this information, there are two possible explanations
for the current findings. One is that discriminatory
treatment, disapproval from family and associates
about the current or past relationship, and reduced
social support may be sources of stress that disproportionately affect families, and therefore contribute to
more child maltreatment within this community.
Although the current study did not find significant
differences in the levels of family risks by race, almost
30% of biracial families were rated as moderate or high
risk because of family violence, and more than a third
were rated as moderate or high risk because of family
stress. Another explanation is that white women with
biracial children are looked upon more harshly
because of their relationships with African-American
men, and people making referrals and investigating
allegations are influenced by racial biases.
A finding that was unexpected was the relatively
high percentage of mothers who identified as biracial.
Some previous studies have shown intergenerational
transmission of child maltreatment (Egeland et al.
1988; Cicchetti & Carlson 1989; Pears & Capaldi
2001). It is possible that the biracial mothers were
involved in the child welfare system themselves,
and are now at higher risk for entering the system as
This highlights the tremendous complexity of race
and racial categories. At what point does an individual
move from biracial to a single race? Is the child of
an African-American–white mother and an AfricanAmerican father biracial? Or is the child AfricanAmerican? If the father is white, is the child then
white? Harman (2008) found that child welfare
workers may have described black-white biracial children as biracial, but these children were still largely
Child and Family Social Work 2010, 15, pp 441–451
seen as black. However, a study of racial identity by
Roth (2005) showed that most African-American–
white families chose to identify their children as biracial.The study further concluded that the way parents
racially identify their children has a strong impact on
the children’s self-identification.
Although this study contributes to the nascent literature on biracial children in the child welfare
systems, it has some limitations. First, several of the
field data measures, particularly ratings of risk and
maltreatment types reported, were biased in one or
another category. For example, there were high
numbers of ‘evaluation request’ listed as the reason
for referral and only 2% of the cases were rated as
‘high risk’ in the risk assessments. Consensus-based
risk assessments are not as sensitive and as accurate
as actuarial measures in predicting risk (Baird &
Wagner 2000). In addition, administrative data do
not have the same level of precision as data collected
for research purposes. Therefore, random or systematic measurement error could impact the findings.
Another challenge of using administrative data for
this study is that the manner in which data on race
was obtained is unknown. Workers may have asked
the clients’ race, or may have made decisions about
the child’s race made on the physical appearance
of the child, mother and father. Although this may
have led to some error in the classification of children,
the data were checked to ensure that children coded
as biracial had parents coded as two different races.
Finally, while the findings on biracial children are
notable, they are based on a relatively small number of
children in one county. Communities with other
demographic compositions, including a larger biracial
population, may yield different results. Additional
research using a large national sample with a variety of
family compositions is needed in order to corroborate
and enlarge on these findings.
Despite the dearth of information about multiracial families, there are some current initiatives that
may help these families. As there is evidence that
interracial couples may experience decreased social
support, which can be a contributing factor in child
maltreatment, family support services can perhaps
fill in some of the gaps. These primarily communitybased preventive programs are designed to alleviate
stress and promote parental competencies and
behaviours that will increase the ability of families to
successfully nurture their children; enable families to
use other resources, especially informal support services and opportunities available in the community;
and create supportive social networks to enhance
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Biracial children in child welfare R A Fusco et al.
childrearing skills. Examples of community-based
family support services and activities include respite
care for parents and other caregivers; assistance to
families for obtaining basic concrete needs; mentoring and parenting education programs, including
teen parent programs; and a range of centre-based
activities (e.g. parent support groups) and homevisiting activities. However the findings from the
research conducted in the UK suggest that communities can be both a positive and a negative support
factor for biracial families (Bebbington & Miles
1989; Tizard & Phoenix 1993). Community-based
prevention programs will not offset the negative consequences of living in a community where being the
object of threatened violence, racial slurs and reporting to child protection is a common occurrence.
Additional research needs to be conducted looking
at the contextual factors of neighbourhoods so that
community-based prevention efforts relevant to the
unique experiences of these families can be tested.
The young age of both the mothers and children
in this study is also notable. Young age of the child
operates as a ‘primacy rule’ in that younger children
will always be rated at higher risk on the risk assessment tool. However, young African-American children in monoracial families were not rated at a
similar level of risk, and the mothers did not have a
similar profile of young age, and physical, intellectual
and emotional concerns. While additional investigation is needed, nurse home-visiting programs may be
an intervention that could be effective with these
families, because it increases the maternal social
network, and has been found to be particularly successful with younger mothers. Home visiting programs have shown not only a decrease in child
maltreatment among receiving families, but also
fewer subsequent pregnancies, greater workforce participation and reduced use of public assistance and
food stamps (Olds 2002, 2006). Professional help
givers could provide emotional and practical help
because the research suggests that white women who
have biracial infants are likely to be isolated from
their families of origin as well as from the black
community (Harman & Barn 2005).
In summary, the population of biracial children in
the USA is growing, and there is some evidence that
multiracial families may have unique needs. The field
of child welfare needs to move beyond the belief that
‘these are just black kids’ and additional research is
greatly needed to better understand the needs of this
population. Interviewing parents to get firsthand
accounts of their experiences in parenting biracial
Child and Family Social Work 2010, 15, pp 441–451
children, and how they become involved with the
child welfare system, could further illustrate some of
the strengths and challenges and provide information
to inform existing interventions. Studies using wellconstructed national samples that include a variety of
family and racial and ethnic compositions as well as
analysis of data from state child welfare databases
would better inform our understanding of the referral, investigation and service patterns of multiracial
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