Panel Paper: Testing for Differential Treatment By Child Welfare Providers Towards Sexual Minorities

Friday, November 8, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Plaza Court 6 (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Leonard M. Lopoo, Mattie Mackenzie-Liu and David Schwegman, Syracuse University

Federal law prohibits discrimination by government officials on the basis of race and sex in a number of settings. However, there are few empirical studies that test the extent to which it still happens. In the limited research that does exist, researchers have found evidence that local bureaucrats and politicians are more likely to respond to white and affluent constituents, compared to black and socio-economically disadvantaged constituents (Giulietti, Tonin, and Vlassopoulos, 2017; Carnes and Holbein 2019; Butler and Broockman 2011). Giulietti et al. (2017), for instance, find evidence that emails containing stereotypical black names sent to public officials inquiring about relevant services were 4 percentage points less likely to receive a response than equivalent emails containing white names.

In this paper, we expand this literature by examining the responsiveness of foster care agencies, child welfare agencies that place children in the care of the state into homes. We conduct an experimental correspondence audit in which we sent email inquirers to all licensed child placement agency offices with email addresses. Each agency received two emails—one from a heterosexual couple and one from a same-sex couple. To help differentiate gender related responses we include both lesbian and gay couples.

We examine differential outcomes across two dimensions: response rate and response quality (e.g., the tone and cordiality of the message, the information contained in the message, etc.). We will then explore if various institutional and legal regimes influence response rates. For example, since 2015, many states have passed religious exemption laws that allow providers of certain social services to deny services if doing so conflicts with their religious beliefs. Several of these laws allow foster care providers (a child welfare service) to deny services to same-sex couples. We will test if these laws influence response rates. Preliminary results suggest same-sex discrimination against gay men, but not lesbian couples.

This study will be the first paper to examine disparities when accessing social welfare services for sexual minorities parents using an experimental methodology.