Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Maltreatment and the child welfare system: Implications from behavioral economics
by Robinson, Diane Leslie, Ph.D., University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, 2014, 164; 3621710
Abstract (Summary)

Child maltreatment is a serious public health problem. It negatively affects children's physical and mental health and is linked with poor educational outcomes. Helping parents remedy the problems leading to child maltreatment is essential, but many parents make decisions contrary to the best interests of their children. Behavioral economics can provide powerful insight into parenting decisions, as well as the actions of the court and child welfare systems in child maltreatment cases. This dissertation tests several hypotheses using propositions from behavioral economics including non-standard preferences for time and risk, non-standard beliefs, and non-standard decision-making. The specific aims include (1) to determine if quicker and more intensive provision of services to parents shortens maltreatment cases; (2) to determine if these actions improve reunification rates; and (3) to determine if children's educational performance is affected by case outcome, length, and actions taken during the court case. Data for the dissertation were collected from the court, child welfare, and education systems. The findings support the use of behavioral economics principles in improving outcomes for maltreated children. Increased visits to the parents and more intense service provision increased the likelihood of family reunification. More frequent visits between parents and children increased the rate of case closure, especially for older children. Children's success in school, as measured through standardized testing, grade point averages, and graduation rates, largely mirror the legal preferences for court outcomes. Specifically, children who were adopted performed best in school, and both adopted children and children reunified with their families performed better than children in permanent custody, children who aged out of the foster care system, and children who remained in care. School instability was found to be a major barrier to school success, with children averaging 2.4 schools per year while in foster care. Multiple school moves were linked to worse performance on all educational measures examined. In general, the findings suggest that changing systems of care for maltreated children using the principles of behavioral economics can improve future health outcomes through improved permanency and educational outcomes.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Tilford, J. Mick
Commitee: Curran, Geoffrey, Farst, Karen J., Ryan, Kevin, Whiteside-Mansell, Leanne
School: University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences
Department: Health Systems Research
School Location: United States -- Arkansas
Source: DAI-B 75/09(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Economics, Public health
Keywords: Behavioral economics, Child maltreatment, Educational outcomes, Foster children, Permanency
Publication Number: 3621710
ISBN: 978-1-303-92994-6
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