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National Study of Child Protective Services Systems and Reform Efforts

The purpose of this 2-year study was to describe the current status of the Child Protective Services (CPS) system in the United States and reform efforts underway around the nation to improve its operation. The study focused on the following areas:

  • State and local child protective services mandates and policies;
  • Child protective services agency functions and practices that are conducted in order to meet those mandates and policies; and
  • Innovative reform efforts that are being introduced and their impact on agency functions and practices.

There were five main components of the National Study. The first component was a review of reforms and new directions discussed in the literature. The second component was an analysis of child protective services policies in all 50 States and the District of Columbia, focusing on organizational and administrative structures and the main child protective services functions. The third component was a written survey of 300 randomly selected counties that examined the functions and operational practices that agencies were conducting. The fourth component consisted of site visits to eight local child protective services agencies. The purpose of the site visits was to discuss in greater detail the types of reforms that had been implemented in the local agencies. The fifth component was an Invitational Symposium to which key stakeholders were invited to discuss critical issues.

The following reports are available from this study:

  • Literature Review (May 2001)
    The purpose of this review is to summarize the literature that discusses CPS change objectives and initiatives. The recent literature provides one conceptual framework from which to understand issues facing CPS systems and reform efforts. It also helps to identify demonstrations and initiatives that are being implemented to address such issues. The literature does not, however, provide a comprehensive picture of the commonalities and variations in CPS agency policy and practice throughout the country. The literature review is organized into two main sections: Proposals for Change and Demonstrations of New Approaches.
  • Review of State Child Protective Services Policy (April 2003)
    This report presents the findings from an analysis of state CPS policies. Chapters on administration, screening and intake, investigation and alternative response are included. Policy manuals covering these functions were reviewed for all states and the District of Columbia. Forty-eight states participated in confirmation interviews designed to clarify policies in written materials. The review determined that although there is considerable variation in policy, there are common functions and features of CPS policy that seem to reflect the requirements of the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) and practice principles recommended by professional organizations such as the Council on Accreditation and the Child Welfare League of America.
  • Findings on Local CPS Practices (April 2003)
    This report discusses the findings based on the Local Agency Survey (LAS) of the CPS agencies. The purpose of the survey was to identify the ways in which local agencies carried out the CPS functions. Its design consisted of a mail survey to the CPS agencies serving a representative sample of 375 counties. The LAS documents the specific activities that make up screening, investigation, and alternative responses conducted by CPS agencies and describes the extent to which CPS agencies share responsibility for various functions with other agencies such as law enforcement. Finally, it reviews the types of changes in practice underway in agencies around the nation.
  • Site Visits Report (May 2003)
    This report summarizes data gathered in site visits to child protection agencies located in eight counties around the nation. These agencies were chosen for visits on the basis of their responses to our local agency survey in which they reported having significant child protective services reform activities underway. Visits were intended to illustrate in greater detail the types of reforms that have been implemented in local agencies. Site visits were made to CPS agencies in the following locations:
    • Brooks County, Georgia
    • Butler County, Pennsylvania
    • Catawba County, North Carolina
    • Fairfax County, Virginia
    • La Crosse County, Wisconsin
    • Ventura County, California
    • Union County Florida
    • Utah County, Utah
  • Summary Report (May 2003)
    The National Study of Child Protective Services Systems and Reform Efforts has examined the current system of child protective services (CPS) in the U.S. from both a policy and a practice perspective. This report summarizes data from the state policy review and local agency survey components of the study, as well as comments from experts made during an invitational meeting intended to help us interpret the implications of the findings for the CPS field. The report concludes by identifying several key tensions that CPS professionals must balance as they seek to improve service delivery.