National Study of Child Protective Services Systems and Reform Efforts. Findings on Local CPS Practices. 1.1 Overview of the Study


This report presents the findings from the Local Agency Survey component of the National Study of Child Protective Services Systems and Reform Efforts. The study was designed to describe the national status of the child protective services (CPS) system and to characterize any reform efforts underway. Acknowledging the state of change that currently exists within the field of CPS and the dynamic nature of the relationship between policy and practice, the CPS systems are being studied from three main perspectives — the State policies and mandates that define CPS functions and specify how these functions are carried out; local CPS agency organization and practices that implement CPS functions; and innovative reform efforts that seek to restructure, redefine, or reformulate the purposes and functions of CPS. These perspectives and the data collection methods used to address them are briefly detailed below.

The overarching responsibility of the CPS agency (most commonly a division or unit within a child welfare department) is to provide the initial response to the needs of children who may have been abused or neglected. Given this mandate to conduct the first response to potential critical emergencies, much of CPS policy focuses on what conditions require a response and what type of response is required.

The first study component addressed policy and consisted of a review of State policy manuals and followup interviews with State administrators. The State policy review focused on those policies and mandates that relate to three primary CPS functions — screening, investigation, and alternative response.1

The review began with extensive reviews of State policy manuals. Next, the Study Team interviewed State CPS administrators to confirm and expand upon the information obtained from the policy review. The interview protocol included separate sections for each CPS function. Each section began by establishing a definition for the function in question and the criteria used in carrying out the function.2

The second study component examined the functions and operational practices conducted by local agencies in order to meet the State and local mandates and policy requirements. This component was addressed through a Local Agency Survey (LAS) of a nationally representative sample of local CPS agencies. The LAS included questions about the organizational structure of the local CPS agencies, the procedures by which the key CPS functions were carried out at the local level, and the ways in which local CPS agencies interfaced with other governmental and community agencies to conduct key CPS functions. The LAS used the findings from the State policy review as a backdrop for the design of the survey and adopted a similar structure and organization in terms of topical areas within the survey. This report presents the findings from this component.

The third component examined the innovative approaches being implemented in local agencies to address the mandates and policies of CPS and explored the degree to which practice is changing to include these new reform efforts. The nature of cutting edge reform is such that there are unique practices that cannot necessarily be anticipated or fully captured through highly structured interview questions that have been wholly formulated in advance. As a result, this research area required an open-ended qualitative approach that examined the problems that the reform efforts sought to address, the critical features of the reform effort, and the results of the reform effort. Consequently, the primary data collection effort in this area involved site visits to a small sample of local CPS agencies to document some of the changes in the field. The agencies were selected based upon their responses to a module in the LAS that asked CPS agencies to describe any recent changes in a number of key areas related to operation and functions of CPS.3

The National Study of Child Protective Services Systems and Reform Efforts was structured around three research components. The emphasis of the State policy review was on the ways in which State CPS mandates and policies defined the roles and key functions of the CPS, as well as the ways in which State mandates and policies provided criteria that guided the manner in which the key CPS functions are carried out. The emphasis of the LAS was the organization of CPS and the procedures by which the key CPS functions were carried out. Finally, the local site visits emphasized current directions in agency practices for carrying out key CPS functions.