National Study of Child Protective Services Systems and Reform Efforts. Findings on Local CPS Practices. 1.2 Local Agency Survey


The objective of the LAS was to obtain detailed information on the types of activities that were conducted under the rubric of child protective services (CPS) practice at the local agency level and to describe variations in practice throughout the nation. This survey effort was a pioneer in the field because it collected information about CPS agency practice from a nationally representative sample of agencies. In the past, the understanding of how CPS agencies operate has relied on anecdotal information, focused studies in local jurisdictions, or purposive samples that provided an incomplete view of CPS agencies. The national perspective of the LAS offered a unique opportunity to quantify the distribution of CPS agencies in terms of how the work was conducted in different realms.

The LAS focused on CPS work in terms of determining:

  • The core functions of CPS;
  • The purpose of these core functions;
  • How the CPS agencies interface with other governmental and community agencies in implementing the core CPS functions;
  • The organizational structure of local CPS agencies; and
  • The multiplicity of procedures and activities that underlie the core CPS functions of CPS agencies.

The survey also sought to document the range of reform efforts or changes underway around the Nation. Across all of these areas, the LAS was designed to help understand the commonalities and differences found among programs and practices across the Nation.

The LAS sampling procedures were designed to select a nationally representative sample of counties, stratified by whether they were county- or State-administered child welfare systems, and by whether they were considered to be urban or rural. Census regions were also taken into account to ensure that the county sample was spread evenly across regions. Using these stratifications, a total of 375 counties were sampled. All local CPS agencies that served the sampled counties were targeted for LAS data collection.

The LAS used a modular questionnaire to determine the functions and practices of local CPS agencies. The Administration Module collected information on the basic organization of the agency. Three modules focused on the functional areas of CPS work — the Screening/Intake Module gathered data on the screening practices of the agencies; the Investigation Response Module collected information on the manner in which the agency conducted investigations of alleged maltreatment; and the Other CPS Response Module enabled agencies to describe alternative approaches to responding to allegations of maltreatment other than traditional investigations. Finally, the fifth module — New Directions Module — asked agencies to document recent changes in CPS practice.

For each module, the person most knowledgeable about CPS practice in the particular topical or functional area was asked to respond to the survey questions. While a single individual may not have been able to give a fully comprehensive description of agency practice, relying on the most knowledgeable person for each module helped ensure a reasonably accurate portrayal of practice without placing undue burden on each agency.

The data collection procedures involved State recruitment, agency recruitment, survey distribution and retrieval, and nonresponse followup. Together, these procedures resulted in an 80 percent response rate.

The survey data were entered into a database and weights were developed. Weighting took into account the probability of selecting the local CPS agencies and adjusted for nonresponse, allowing the LAS data to produce national estimates. The final analysis file was configured at the agency level so that it contained a unique agency record for each responding agency. The sum of all the agency-level final weights provided an estimate of the number of local CPS agencies in the nation equal to 2,610 agencies. Because all LAS findings are presented as national estimates derived from a sample, their statistical precision is qualified by sampling error. This report provides estimates of the numbers and percentages of the Nation's 2,610 local CPS agencies with different practices and procedures, with the precision of the estimates indexed using the 95 percent confidence interval.4 As an example, the 95 percent confidence interval for the estimated national total of 2,610 local CPS agencies is 2,410 to 2,810 agencies.