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Institutional Analysis

Nationally, families of color – particularly African American and Native American – are overrepresented in the child welfare system. These families also tend to have worse outcomes – such as being more likely to be removed from their homes and experiencing longer stays in foster care. To try and understand the root causes behind this inequity, CSSP, working in partnership with Praxis International, developed Institutional Analysis.

An Institutional Analysis is a set of qualitative diagnostic tools that seeks to understand and address organizational and structural contributors to poor outcomes for children and families involved in the child welfare, juvenile justice and other systems. 

Using data and qualitative interviews, the Institutional Analysis examines how workers are organized to know and understand families and effectively intervene to support them. In other words, this approach makes visible the structures that shape, direct and determine workers’ actions. It also shows how those structures can produce racial disparity and inequity and overall poorer outcomes for certain children and families. 

Based on the theory underpinning organizational ethnography, the Institutional Analysis helps system leaders, advocacy organizations and other groups work together to improve safety, permanency and well-being outcomes for children and families and ensures accountability for those positive outcomes.

The Process

CSSP’s institutional analysis team combines quantitative and qualitative data collection methods to understand system contributors to racial disparities. Information is collected from case-based analyses, focus groups with practitioners and family members, observations of specific steps in case processing and interviews with practitioners, family members, advocacy groups and local, state and national experts in the field.

The Jurisdictions

An Institutional Analysis completed in Michigan examined how African American children were more likely to be removed from their homes after a substantiation of neglect. In Fresno, California, the analysis team examined why African American children experienced low reunification rates with their parents and how the developmental needs of African American youth who had been in long-term foster care were met. In 2012, a report was issued exploring African American and Hispanic youth in Fairfax, Virginia’s juvenile justice system. The most recent Institutional Analysis in Los Angeles addresses why African American children and youth do not reunify with their parents or find alternative, timely permanency. It is based on findings from three county offices (Pomona, Torrance and Wateridge) about the policies and practices that contribute to these poor outcomes.  


2015 Institutional Analysis Series


In 2015, CSSP is producing a series based on the IA methodology to augment the field’s knowledge about these issues. Click below to read them, and watch this space for new additions of the series. This one-pager provides a quick guide to understanding the process we use.

institutional analysis methodology paper institutional analysis fresno case study ABA paper
The Institutional Analysis: Uncovering Pathways to Improving Public Systems & Interventions for Children and Families Fresno County Department of Social Services: Confronting Racial Inequities and Disproportionality to Improve Child Welfare Outcomes for Children & Families American Bar Association Publication: Better Outcomes for Older Youth of Color in Foster Care
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