Team Decision Making May Improve Equity in the Child Welfare System

Research BriefChild WelfareDec 14 2022

Many inequities exist in the child welfare system, at all stages of the child protection process—including reporting, investigation, and placement into foster care. Children of certain racial and ethnic groups are overrepresented in child welfare, relative to their numbers in the general population. In 2020, a higher percentage of children in foster care were Black or African American children and children who identify as more than one race, relative to these children’s percentage among the general population. Because family separation can cause distress and trauma, a disproportionate share of children of color experience these adverse conditions.


There are many reasons for inequity in the child welfare system, including disproportionate rates of poverty and associated socioeconomic need among children and families from certain racial and ethnic backgrounds; racial bias and discrimination, including historical and structural racism; unequal access to resources between groups of families with various racial and ethnic backgrounds; differences in policies and processes across individual child welfare systems; and the failures of various policies and legislation to tackle inequities.

Further research is needed on child welfare practices that can reduce inequity. Child welfare systems must address their inequities and reduce the harm of system involvement for families and children of color. One way to reduce inequity in child welfare systems is through programs that specifically focus on addressing the factors that can exacerbate and increase inequity, such as worker and organizational bias and systems’ failure to engage with families. In addition, to fully understand whether a child welfare practice is successful, it is essential to ensure that practices have been tested in a variety of settings with many racial and ethnic groups and that they have demonstrated positive findings for each group with which it is being implemented.

Team Decision Making, or TDM, can improve equity in the child welfare system.

Team Decision Making (TDM) is one practice that may help reduce racial and ethnic inequities in the child welfare system. TDM is an evidence-informed, culturally sensitive, minimally disruptive, and community-based way for child welfare agencies to assess safety concerns and inform their decisions about whether to remove a child from their home. The key elements of TDM include a consistently held meeting whenever there is a child safety concern. This meeting includes family members, as well as informal and formal family supports, and is led by a trained facilitator who guides meeting participants toward consensus, with consistently collected and tracked information related to the case. From 2015 to 2019, TDM was implemented in two counties in Missouri as part of a statewide shift toward a family-centered practice framework—an approach to providing services that align with family preservation, family engagement and buy-in, enhanced family decision making, and inclusion of natural family supports.

In this brief, we first introduce Child Trends’ evaluation of how child welfare agencies in two Missouri counties implemented TDM. Then, we review findings from that evaluation related to safety and likelihood of subsequent allegations of maltreatment, including differences by race of the parents. In this section, we also discuss workers’ perceptions of being more informed about the families they serve, as well as families’ appreciation of feeling more included as a result of a TDM. We conclude by discussing how these findings highlight TDM’s potential role within a comprehensive approach to reducing inequities in the child welfare system and reducing the likelihood of family separation and related trauma for children.

Suggested citation

Rushovich, B., & Hebert, A. (2022). Team Decision Making may improve equity in the child welfare system. Child Trends.