How Child Welfare Workers Reduce Racial Disparities in Algorithmic Decisions

Picture of Hao-Fei Cheng
Hao-Fei Cheng
Picture of Logan Stapleton
Logan Stapleton
Picture of Anna Kawakami
Anna Kawakami
Picture of Yanghuidi Cheng
Yanghuidi Cheng
Picture of Diana Qing
Diana Qing
Picture of Zhiwei Steven Wu
Zhiwei Steven Wu
Picture of Haiyi Zhu
Haiyi Zhu
Published at CHI | New Orleans, LA 2022
Teaser image


Machine learning tools have been deployed in various contexts to support human decision-making, in the hope that human-algorithm collaboration can improve decision quality. However, the question of whether such collaborations reduce or exacerbate biases in decision-making remains underexplored. In this work, we conducted a mixed-methods study, analyzing child welfare call screen workers' decision-making over a span of four years, and interviewing them on how they incorporate algorithmic predictions into their decision-making process. Our data analysis shows that, compared to the algorithm alone, workers reduced the disparity in screen-in rate between Black and white children from 20% to 9%. Our qualitative data show that workers achieved this by making holistic risk assessments and adjusting for the algorithm's limitations. Our analyses also show more nuanced results about how human-algorithm collaboration affects prediction accuracy, and how to measure these effects. These results shed light on potential mechanisms for improving human-algorithm collaboration in high-risk decision-making contexts.

Two co-first authors contributed equally to this work.