Pilot CWS-R-SAP – v. 1 Current CWS, 7.3. Low CPS Investigation Rates

Pilot Child Welfare System Redesign

Strategic Action Plan

 

These webpages are a work in progress. They are open to the public to encourage comments, ideas, and improvements.

 

Previous Page                                                                                Next Page

 

7.3. Researching the Low CPS Investigation Rates

 

Children who do not receive a CPS investigation represent an enigma to the study, in that it is not possible to say whether sentinels who recognized their maltreatment did not report it to CPS or whether they did report it but CPS screened their reports out without an investigation. These alternatives have quite different implications for policy. The NIS–4 included several supplementary studies to help understand the countable children who do not receive CPS investigation.”[1] [bolding added for emphasis]

 

“The CPS Screening Policies Study (SPS) obtained detailed information about CPS screening criteria to determine what role they might play in screening out countable children from CPS investigations. The NIS–4 reviewed the children identified in the main study as maltreated but not investigated at CPS to determine whether CPS probably would have investigated them, based on the screening criteria described in the SPS interviews. This exercise indicated that CPS probably would have investigated nearly three-fourths (72%) of the uninvestigated children who experienced Harm Standard maltreatment and two-thirds (66%) of the uninvestigated children with Endangerment Standard maltreatment.”[2] [bolding added for emphasis]

 

“Another NIS–4 supplementary study, the CPS Structures and Practices Mail Survey (SPM), collected information about various agency characteristics, examining whether these related to CPS investigation rates.

  • Investigation rates were significantly lower when a state or regional hotline screened incoming referrals for children with Harm Standard physical abuse (48% versus 65%) or emotional neglect (25% versus 37%).
  • When CPS had no assistance in investigating certain categories of maltreatment, investigation rates were lower:
  • if the agency had sole responsibility for investigating non-severe physical neglect, then the rate of CPS investigation was significantly lower for children with Harm Standard physical neglect (26% versus 43%);
  • sole responsibility for investigating abandonment correlated with lower investigation rates for Endangerment Standard physical neglect (37% versus 50%).
  • When CPS could provide a response other than an investigation (commonly termed an “alternative response”), then investigation rates were lower across a range of maltreatment categories under both definitional standards.
  • Agencies with alternative responses investigated only 23% of the children with Harm Standard maltreatment and 29% of those with Endangerment Standard maltreatment, whereas agencies without any alternative response offering investigated 38% and 52% of these groups, respectively.”[3]

 

“NIS sentinels also participated in the Sentinel Definitions Survey (SDS), which asked them about their training on mandated reporting, their specific agency’s policies governing CPS reporting, their personal experiences in reporting to CPS, and whether they would report a variety of maltreatment situations to CPS. … whereas the NIS–4 found that majorities of countable children were not investigated, only minorities of sentinels said they would not report the countable cases presented in the SDS. The contrast was strong across all maltreatment categories. Thus, the SDS results cannot explain the large percentages of uninvestigated children in the NIS–4.”[4] [bolding added for emphasis]

 

“The NIS–4 documented declines in rates of all categories of abuse

  • The declines in sexual abuse and physical abuse are consistent with trends in CPS data gathered by the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, 2007) and they also parallel declines in victim self-reports.
  • However, since no independent information is currently available that bears on the incidence of emotional abuse, it is not clear whether the NIS decline in this category reflects a real decrease in its occurrence. …
  • The increase in the rate of emotional neglect since 1993 could, in part, signify a real increase in the occurrence of maltreatment, but it is fairly clear that it also reflects some change in policy and focus.
  • Since the NIS–3, a number of CPS systems have undertaken initiatives to increase collaboration between CPS and agencies that serve domestic violence and alcohol and drug problems (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families/Children’s Bureau and Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, 2001, 2003). …
  • Despite some increases in CPS investigation of maltreated children, the NIS– 4 shows that investigation rates still remain fairly low. Similar to previous NIS findings, the NIS–4 again determined that the majority of maltreated children do not receive CPS investigation
  • Although schools predominated as a source of recognition for maltreated children, 20% or less of the maltreated children recognized at schools received CPS investigation.
  • One factor that may contribute to the low investigation rate for school-recognized children is school policy barring staff from making direct reports to CPS. In the Sentinel Definitions Survey, 20% of school sentinels indicated that their schools do not permit them to report directly to CPS.
  • However, other factors also contribute to low investigation rates for the school-recognized children, because even when agencies permitted direct reports, fewer sentinels in schools said they had reported a case (54%) compared to staff in health agencies (77%) or law enforcement (87%).
  • Similar patterns emerged in the previous NIS cycles.
  • To repeat the earlier recommendation: better working relationships should be forged between CPS agencies and schools, capitalizing on the unique role of school professionals as front-line observers.[5] [divided into bullets for clarity and bolding added for emphasis]

 

Focus on the Child:

Several important new pieces of information introduced in the NIS-4 Study require further discussion

 

Screening

In the second paragraph of this Chapter, the CPS Screening Policies Study (SPS) indicated that, if reports had not been screened-out during Screening, “CPS probably would have investigated nearly three-fourths (72%) of the uninvestigated children who experienced Harm Standard maltreatment and two-thirds (66%) of the uninvestigated children with Endangerment Standard maltreatment.”[6]

This, perhaps, is the best evidence yet for the Recommendation to stop screening-out reports at Screening.

The data from the NIS-4 Study has strongly indicated the need to revise the policy regarding screening-out of reports coming to CWS.

 

CPS Structures and Practices Mail Survey

The most damning evidence against many of the current Child Welfare Systems was found in discoveries from the CPS Structures and Practices Mail Survey described in the third paragraph of this Chapter and its bulleted items.

 

Centralized Hotlines Result in Significantly Lower CPS Investigation Rates

First bullet: “Investigation rates were significantly lower when a state or regional hotline screened incoming referrals for children with Harm Standard physical abuse (48% versus 65%) or emotional neglect (25% versus 37%).”[7]

The trend has been toward states providing one centralized hotline that does all the screening for incoming referrals of potential child abuse or neglect. Although there may be some efficiencies and standards from a state hotline, the NIS-4 Study clearly demonstrates the downside: significantly lower CPS investigation rates.

A reduction of investigations from 65% to 48% for physical abuse and a reduction of investigations from 37% (already far too low) to 25% for emotional neglect results in hundreds, perhaps thousands, of children in those states who are not given CPS investigations and no action has been – or will be – taken by CWS on their behalf.

A centralized hotline for the entire state obviously receives significantly more calls than distributed, local hotlines, which carry the load only for their county or area. With that increase in calls, there appears to be a tendency to increase the number of “screened-out” reports than local counties would have – even though the report is directed to the appropriate county or local area for their CPS department to investigate.

The data-driven facts from the NIS-4 Study must be addressed at the federal level to (1) determine the reason for the decrease in investigations, if not what was presented above; and (2) provide a mandate that a greater percentage (100% would be perfect) of calls to the child abuse hotline (whether centralized or distributed) be investigated.

 

Even one abused or neglected child left uninvestigated after a mandatory reporter called in a report, is too great a cost.

 

CPS as Sole Agency Results in Lower Investigation Rates

The second bullet discloses an unfortunate “policy” or “practice” on the part of CPS when there is not another agency working with CPS on a child abuse or neglect case: “When CPS had no assistance in investigating certain categories of maltreatment, investigation rates were lower.”[8] This is further divided into two situations:

“if the agency had sole responsibility for investigating non-severe physical neglect, then the rate of CPS investigation was significantly lower for children with Harm Standard physical neglect (26% versus 43%);”[9]

In this case, solo CPS investigations for non-severe physical neglect resulted in a 26% investigation rate instead of 43% when there was another agency involved. This would indicate that CPS decided not to investigate, rather than a Screening determination to screen-out the report.

Was an “alternative response” used instead of an investigation? If so, that can’t be used against CPS because it is a federally-supported alternative when the abuse or neglect is non-severe.

 

“sole responsibility for investigating abandonment correlated with lower investigation rates for Endangerment Standard physical neglect (37% versus 50%).”[10]

In this case, solo CPS investigations for abandonment resulted in a 37% investigation rate instead of 50% when there was another agency involved. Again, CPS decided not to investigate.

Was an “alternative response” used instead of an investigation? If so, that can’t be used against CPS because it is a federally-supported alternative when the abuse or neglect is non-severe.

 

Alternative Response Option Results in Lower CPS Investigation Rates

“When CPS could provide a response other than an investigation (commonly termed an ‘alternative response’), then investigation rates were lower across a range of maltreatment categories under both definitional standards. Agencies with alternative responses investigated only 23% of the children with Harm Standard maltreatment and 29% of those with Endangerment Standard maltreatment, whereas agencies without any alternative response offering investigated 38% and 52% of these groups, respectively.”[11] To address this result, the definition and application of “alternative response” was researched:

“Increasingly, States are using a differential response system, also known as alternative response, multiple response, and dual tracking. Differential responses arose primarily from the recognition that families referred to the child welfare system often face numerous issues, including substance abuse, domestic violence, mental illness, or economic and food insecurity, and that in certain circumstances an investigation, which might be adversarial, may not be helpful in meeting the family’s needs. They allow Child Protective Services (CPS) agencies to be more flexible in how they respond to child maltreatment reports and engage families more effectively in using services that address their specific needs. … If a case is screened in and deemed to have no significant safety and risk concerns, the agency may choose to conduct a differential response in lieu of an investigation. … Although differences exist among and within States, differential response practices do have some common characteristics. The Child Welfare Information Gateway identifies six of them. Differential responses are:

  • Assessment focused: The primary focus tends to be on assessing families’ strengths and needs. Substantiation of an alleged incident is not the priority.
  • Individualized: Cases are handled differently depending on families’ unique needs and situations.
  • Family-centered: A differential response uses a strengths-based, family engagement approach.
  • Community oriented: Families on the assessment track are referred to services that fit their needs and issues. This requires availability and coordination of appropriate and timely community services and presumes a shared responsibility for child protection.
  • Selective: A differential response is not employed when the most serious types of maltreatment are alleged, particularly those that are likely to require court intervention, such as sexual abuse or severe harm to a child.
  • Flexible: The response track can be changed based on ongoing risk and safety considerations. If a family refuses assessment or services, the agency may conduct an investigation or close the case.”[12]

With the definition of “alternative response” provided above, it appears that there were decisions made by CPS that a family-engagement approach was warranted when the maltreatment is not considered serious. This appears to be a judgment call on behalf of CPS based on evidence or appearance without a formal investigation.

 

If an option such as “alternative response” is provided, there does not appear to be a reason to fault a CPS worker if they use that option instead of investigation, particularly if no further harm nor fatality occurs as a result of the choice.

 

 

Low CPS Investigations

“the NIS–4 again determined that the majority of maltreated children do not receive CPS investigation”[13]

 

Analysis of Low CPS Investigations

Two major areas within CWS, functioning according to federal practice and guidelines, account for the majority of child abuse or neglect reports that are not investigated by CPS:

  1. Screening: Although states vary on the percentage of child abuse and neglect reports are “screened-out” at Screening, averages are 40% or higher being “screened out” – thus never reaching CPS to be investigated
  2. CPS: When an “alternative response” is available, CPS may choose to work with the family first, rather than start an investigation, if the child abuse or neglect is not considered harmful.

No significant changes to the percentages of reports investigated by CPS will occur unless the Children’s Bureau mandates the removal of the currently supported practice of screening-out reports and removes the “alternative response” as a viable option to investigation.

Federal agencies cannot provide guidelines for screening-out and “alternative response” AND fault CPS for fewer investigations. See Recommendations below.

 

Reports from Schools Receive Low CPS Investigations

“Although schools predominated as a source of recognition for maltreated children, 20% or less of the maltreated children recognized at schools received CPS investigation. One factor that may contribute to the low investigation rate for school-recognized children is school policy barring staff from making direct reports to CPS.”[14]

 

Recommendations:

There is a double standard in the Child Welfare System: screened-out reports are treated as a standard part of the screening process but are reported as “failure of CPS to investigate over half of the reports.” Screening-out is a federally supported aspect of the Screeners’ responsibilities. The “alternative response” option was introduced because, in some cases of child abuse and neglect, it is better not to investigate and cause further turmoil and violence in the family.

 

Action Step 7.3.1. With the new requirement that ALL reports are to be investigated by CPS, all four of the following Recommendations must be enacted at the same time:

  1. Remove the mandate stating that x% of reports may be screened-out at Screening; AND
  2. Mandate that all reports of suspected child abuse or neglect to the states’ Child Welfare System be investigated by CPS; no reports of suspected child abuse or neglect are to be screened-out; AND
  3. Remove the portion of the mandate stating that “alternative response” is a viable option to investigation and is not considered “investigation” for CPS staff; AND
  4. Mandate that both investigations and “alternative response” action are counted toward CPS statistics of percent of reports “acted upon” by CPS.

 

Action Step 7.3.2. Investigate why schools prohibit staff to report child abuse and neglect directly to CPS.

 

Action Step 7.3.3. Determine whether a mandate is required that school staff, as mandatory reporters, must be allowed to submit child abuse and neglect reports directly to CPS.

 

References

[1] Sedlak, A.J. and Basena, M. (2014). Online Access to the Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect. Rockville, MD: Westat. Available: http://www.nis4.org

[2] Ibid.

[3] Sedlak, A.J. and Basena, M. (2014). Online Access to the Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect. Rockville, MD: Westat. Available: http://www.nis4.org

[4] Ibid.

[5] Sedlak, A.J. and Basena, M. (2014). Online Access to the Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect. Rockville, MD: Westat. Available: http://www.nis4.org

[6] Ibid.

[7] Sedlak, A.J. and Basena, M. (2014). Online Access to the Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect. Rockville, MD: Westat. Available: http://www.nis4.org

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Sedlak, A.J. and Basena, M. (2014). Online Access to the Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect. Rockville, MD: Westat. Available: http://www.nis4.org

[11] Ibid.

[12] Understanding the Child Welfare System, https://training.cfsrportal.acf.hhs.gov/section-2-understanding-child-welfare-system/3011#:~:text=%20Differential%20responses%20are%3A%20%201%20Assessment%20focused%3A%C2%A0The,uses%20a%20strengths-based%2C%20family%20engagement%20approach.%20More%20, accessed 7/11/2020

[13] Sedlak, A.J. and Basena, M. (2014). Online Access to the Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect. Rockville, MD: Westat. Available: http://www.nis4.org

[14] Sedlak, A.J. and Basena, M. (2014). Online Access to the Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect. Rockville, MD: Westat. Available: http://www.nis4.org

 

Previous Page                                                                                Next Page

 

 

To submit questions or comments, please email Jo@Jo-Calk.com. I welcome all input, ideas, and suggestions. Thank you for caring for children.

Blessings,

Jo Calk