Publication Date

Winter 2021


State child welfare systems substantiate over 500,000 allegations of child maltreatment each year and hold parents responsible for this maltreatment in most cases. Parents who are substantiated are often listed on state child maltreatment registries for years, if not decades. Originally designed to investigate and process allegations of child mal-treatment, registries and the data they contain are increasingly used by employers to identify perpetrators of maltreatment and essentially bar them from employment in occupations that care for children and other vulnerable populations. As a consequence of this use, thousands of parents are prevented from engaging in paid care work, undermining their ability to care for themselves and their families. Through a review of state statutory schemes, child welfare data, and policy and practice documents, this article documents, compares, and assesses the strengths and limitations of existing statutory schemes; highlights the due process challenges they raise; considers their disproportionate im-pact on poor women, many of whom are Black; and suggests statutory reforms that work to safeguard children while minimizing economic consequences to families


The authors would like to thank research assistants Laura Hatt, Anneliese Luck, Aaron Lubiner, and Andreas Argeros for their excellent work and dedication to this project.

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