Media Reports of Child Deaths and the Relationship to Foster Care Entries and Exits

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Background: Media reports of child deaths as a result of abuse and neglect can influence how children move throughout the foster care system. Using the theoretical frameworks of moral panics and street level bureaucracy, the current study examined how news reports of violent child abuse and neglect cases relate to foster care children with implications for decision-making among child welfare workers. Methods: Data from the AFCARS were assessed to evaluate the potential relationship between news report of child death and subsequent changes in trends in referrals to entry into foster care and exits out of foster care. News reports were coded using content analysis. Results: For foster care entries, there was a delayed (1–2 months after news stories) increase in foster care entries after an increase in the number of articles on child deaths. For foster care exits, there was an immediate (same month as news stories) decrease in foster care exits after an increase in the number of articles on child deaths. This relationship reversed after 1 month, with more articles resulting in increases in exits. Conclusions: Based on these results, it is possible that child services workers might be sensitive to news reports of violence against children and possibly use their professional positions to make decisions to help protect children and enact their own discretionary “street-level policies.”

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