Schreiber presents religion’s effect on child welfare at SSWR conference

Many scholars have researched religion’s effect on adolescents in the general population, but social work professor Jill Schreiber goes a step further in exploring its effect on adolescents involved in child welfare.

Social work professor Jill Schreiber

And she will do so Jan. 19 at the Society for Social Work and Research conference in San Antonio, Texas when she presents her paper, “The Impact of Religiosity of the Delinquency of Maltreated Youth.”  Schreiber found that religious factors were correlated with decreased delinquency.

“Although religion is one important factor, we can’t say people need to be religious,” Schreiber said, “but we need to think about it anyway. It is similar to race which is important to study even though we can’t tell people what race to be.  Their racial experience impacts their family and their religious experience is going to impact their family too.”

Schreiber said religious beliefs and values were “formative in child welfare” and that many child welfare agencies have religious roots. But child welfare research, according to Schreiber, has not considered religious issues, in part, due to concerns about Constitutional issues such as separation of church and state.

“Do foster parents have free exercise where they’re allowed to practice their religion or are they agents of the state where they are not allowed to?” Schreiber said. “So there’s some complicated legal issues.”

When placing children in foster homes, matching language and keeping the same neighborhood are considered, but Schreiber said matching religion is not always a factor.

“They take Muslim children and put them in Christian homes. Or they take kids who are not religious and put them in highly religious homes,” Schreiber said.

Understanding the effect religion has on a child’s upbringing helps understand children’s needs when placing them in a foster home, according to Schreiber.

“If a child is Jewish or Muslim, for example, foster parents need to understand their dietary needs,” Schreiber said.

She also said she supports “maintaining connections to supportive communities and learning how to help foster youth who had unsupportive or difficult communities.”

“For example, a gay  kid who was kicked out of an evangelical family and placed in foster care may need help to process  his negative religious experiences,” Schreiber said.

Schreiber hopes to interview foster youth and families in future research understand how religious beliefs affect child welfare.

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