Children in faith-based child welfare programs safer than those in secular ones, Baylor study suggests

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Children in the care of faith-based child welfare programs could be safer from sexual abuse and other ills than those in secular ones, a new Baylor University study suggests.

In the study, titled "The Association of Christian Childcare Administrators: Keeping Children Safe," Byron R. Johnson, director of Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion, and William Wubbenhorst, a nonresident fellow in Baylor’s program on prosocial behavior, conducted a  preliminary assessment of child safety outcomes through an analysis of insurance data for Christian child welfare organizations connected with the Association of Christian Childcare Administrators as it pertains to their liability for professional and sexual abuse.

The researchers reviewed data on professional and sexual abuse incidents involving children in 12 faith-based organizations affiliated with the ACCA from 2015 to 2020 and compared their data with similar types of secular organizations over the period and found that faith-based organizations had lower insurance loss ratio.

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Researchers calculated the insurance loss ratio by dividing the insurance losses and adjustment expenses paid by the insurer with the insurance premiums paid by the covered welfare agency.

“Any pure insurance loss ratio below 50% generally represents, from the insurer's perspective, a ‘profitable’ client, meaning that the revenues paid to them for the insurance exceeded the payouts they needed to make for a given year,” researchers said. “A pure loss ratio, combined with the administrative and overhead expenses incurred by the insurance company as a normal part of doing business, over 100% generally indicates an 'unprofitable' client, requiring more payouts and expenses than the revenue generated from the premiums they received.”

The data show that it was more profitable for insurers to do business with Christian faith-based child welfare organizations.

A total of $2.98 million in premiums was paid by the faith-based agencies in the study for a combination of general liability, professional, physical/sexual abuse and property policies. Insurance companies paid out a total of $1.42 million for 11 ACCA-affiliated child welfare agencies that provided data. This means that the faith-based agencies had an overall 'pure' loss ratio of 48%.

“The loss ratio by agency varied significantly, from a low of 0% to a high of 114%. All the losses reported were related to property. None of the losses were attributed to abuse,” researchers said.

Information on secular child welfare organizations provide by “an insurance company which, for competitive reasons, wishes to remain anonymous, is 222%, which indicates that this insurance company is actually losing money for policies for similar types of clients,” researchers noted.

“If we were to apply this 222% loss ratio to the premiums paid by the seven ACCA-affiliated agencies, that would result in a projected $5.13 million in losses and expenses paid out by the insurance company. Compared to the $1.42 million in actual losses for the ACCA surveyed cohort, this would result in a total savings $3.71 million, or $742,320 per year, for an average savings of $67,484 per agency per year,” they added.

The study suggests that one of the main reasons “mission-focused” faith-based child welfare organizations have more favorable insurance loss ratios is their focus on relationships and relationship-building characteristics.

Rhonda Sciortino, a former foster youth who previously worked as an insurance program administrator for child welfare organizations for 25 years, explained the distinction she saw between faith-based and secular organizations.

“For over 25 years, I protected and defended private, nonprofit child welfare organizations. I tracked the injuries, allegations and deaths of children and caregivers, as well as whether or not the organization was Christ-centered. I found a dramatic difference in the frequency and severity of liability claims between Christian and secular child welfare organizations,” Sciortino noted in the study.

“When I began to notice these differences, I formed a committee of CEOs of Christian child welfare organizations to ask them how they were able to avoid some of the many claims that happened in secular organizations that cared for similar populations of children and youth. One of the results of those meetings was the identification of specific risk factors and prevention and mitigation influences,” she said.

“Together, we learned the triggers that led to injury and death, the times of day, and the days of the week when these tragedies were most likely to occur. What we discovered was that the number one cause of an incident that generated a claim was a break in relationship. The second most frequent cause was a break in routine.”

Sciortino also explained that faith-based child welfare organizations are also better able to defend themselves against abuse claims because of strong policies concerning documentation.

Another factor that Sciortino attributes to this finding is what she perceives as the ability to successfully defend against claims of abuse or harm or death of a foster youth. The level of documentation and policies that many faith-based childcare organizations have as it relates to staff screening, supervision and training helps insulate them from many of these lawsuits when injuries occur researchers said.  

“Their investment in relationships appear to be foundational to the safety of the children and youth in their care. In addition, this emphasis on relationships also seems to contribute to keeping their staff turnover rate low, which is also a known factor in improving safety for everyone involved,” Sciortino said. “Higher staff retention also reduces the risk factor we identified as it relates to breaks in routine for the youth under their care.”

Contact: Follow Leonardo Blair on Twitter: @leoblair Follow Leonardo Blair on Facebook: LeoBlairChristianPost

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