Higher Performance with Increased Risk of Undesirable Outcomes: The Dilemma of U.S. Child Welfare

2019, Public Management Review, with Dallas Elgin

Full title: "Higher Performance with Increased Risk of Undesirable Outcomes: The Dilemma of U.S. Child Welfare Services Privatization”

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This paper examines the performance implications of privatization in U.S. child welfare service systems. We combine insights from contracting and nonprofit management literatures with a ‘deficit model’ of privatization to posit that fully-privatized systems delivered by nonprofits outperform their governmental counterparts. Due to resource constraints, however, we expect nonprofits to prioritize the greatest good for the greatest number of clients over client-specific outcomes. We use a quasi-experimental research design and a national administrative dataset, finding that full-scale privatization increases children’s likelihood of achieving the most desirable outcome and simultaneously places her at greater risk for the least desirable outcome.