Alternative Responses to Child Maltreatment: Findings from NCANDS. How are the circumstances of the reported maltreatment related to the chances that a child receives an alternative response or an investigation response?

07/01/2005

As described above, State policy regarding criteria for the use of alternative response is based on the circumstances of the report, particularly on the type or severity of the alleged maltreatment. Previous research has shown that some circumstances of alleged maltreatment are related to whether a child receives an investigation or an alternative response, while others are not. Research has focused mainly on the source of the report and type of maltreatment (Siegel & Loman, 2000; Loman & Siegel, 2004a; Virginia Department of Social Services, 2004; Chipley et al., 1999, English et al., 2000). Earlier studies have not reported on whether the other characteristics of the maltreatment report  such as number of children reported, living arrangement, or the presence of risk factors such as family violence or caretaker substance abuse  were associated in any way with a referral to alternative response. Findings from this study confirm that most of these variables are relevant in distinguishing which track is chosen.

Source of Report

Reports from nonprofessionals and school sources were more likely
to be referred to alternative response than those from social workers,
medical personnel, legal, or criminal justice sources.

The connection between a referral to alternative response and the source of the report was confirmed by the present study. Alternative response more often resulted from referrals from parents, relatives, friends, schools, or the children themselves. (See figure 4.) Referrals from social workers, medical personnel, legal, or criminal justice sources were less likely to be referred to alternative response. These findings coincide in part with earlier research. English et al., (2000) found that the children and families served by alternative response in Washington were most likely to have been reported by social service professionals and educators and never by law enforcement or medical personnel. In Texas, reports from law enforcement were mandated to receive investigations (Chipley et al., 1999).

Presumably, the specific policies at the State level regarding referral to alternative response are responsible in part for establishing the relationship between report source and alternative response referral. However, it may also be that reports received from professional sources present a more thorough and formalized assessment of the problems that prompted the report, as well as greater knowledge about the types of reports to which the traditional CPS system may respond, thus assignment to the investigation track may be more likely. Another study has suggested that professional reporters are more inclined to report more serious allegations of child maltreatment. Thus, the greater use of the investigation track in such cases may also be explained by severity considerations (Zellman, 1990).

Figure 4.
Percentage of Children Referred to Alternative Response, by Report Source, 2002

Figure 4. Percentage of Children Referred to Alternative Response, by Report Source, 2002.

Maltreatment Type

Alternative response was more likely to be used for cases
with less immediate safety concerns and was much less likely
in cases in which sexual abuse was the only maltreatment type.

The connection between maltreatment type and referral to alternative response in each State was strong, but varied across States, reflecting different reporting strategies for alternative response. For two States in this study  Missouri and Wyoming  all children referred to alternative response had the same maltreatment characteristics; in Missouri, all were children with no reported maltreatment, and in Wyoming all had been reported for other abuse. In the other States  Kentucky, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Oklahoma  a portion of children with all different maltreatment types were referred to alternative response. (See figure 5.) However, neglect/medical neglect and emotional/other/unknown maltreatment types were more highly represented among children who were referred to alternative response.(8) In these four States, children for whom sexual abuse was the only maltreatment type had the lowest rate of referral to alternative response. With the exception of New Jersey, virtually none of the children who were reported to be sexually abused were referred to alternative response. These findings suggest that an alternative response system generally reflects the purpose of the system  to serve families with less immediate safety concerns and therefore may not warrant a traditional CPS response.

Figure 5.
Percentage of Children Referred to Alternative Response, by Maltreatment Type, 2002

Figure 5. Percentage of Children Referred to Alternative Response, by Maltreatment Type, 2002.

Other Circumstances of the Reported Maltreatment

In the States that provided data on the reported childs living arrangement, children living at home with their families were more likely to be referred to alternative response than were children in foster care or institutional settings. In all States but Minnesota, a higher percentage of children were referred to alternative response when other children were included in the same maltreatment report than when only one child was included in the report. (See figure 6.) In Wyoming, children were more likely to be referred to alternative response when there were more children in the report. It may be that cases involving neglect are more likely to include more children who are in need of intervention than those cases in which physical or sexual abuse is alleged. In Minnesota children who were alone in the maltreatment report were more likely to be referred to alternative response. In the family risk assessment of abuse and neglect that is used in Minnesota, families with more children are given a higher-risk score, resulting in a lower likelihood that they would be referred to alternative response. Further research is needed to identify what underlies the association between number of children in the report and the referral to alternative response or investigation.

Figure 6.
Percentage of Children Referred to Alternative Response, by Number of Children in the Report, 2002

Figure 6. Percentage of Children Referred to Alternative Response, by Number of Children in the Report, 2002.

In New Jersey only the presence of family violence and caretaker substance abuse were associated with an increase in the proportion of children referred to alternative response, which is consistent with the focus of New Jerseys alternative response system on families with these issues. In all other States, the presence of family violence was not associated with an increase in the likelihood that a child would be referred to a response or a particular type. Also, children whose caretakers had a history of drug abuse had a lower rate of referral to alternative response than those children with no history of caretaker drug abuse. When only caretaker alcohol abuse was present, children were referred to alternative response at approximately the same rate, or slightly lower, than those with no history of caretaker substance abuse. Generally, these findings are in keeping with the alternative response systems premise to serve those cases that appear to be at lower risk or presenting less severe allegations regarding child maltreatment.

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