National Study of Child Protective Services Systems and Reform Efforts. Findings on Local CPS Practices. 9.6 Conclusion


The LAS provides a rich source of information about the processes and practices of CPS agencies. The survey's focus on the different functional areas as well as reform efforts within the agencies contributes to the overall study's ability to describe the status of the CPS system nationally and to characterize the reform efforts underway. With a unique national perspective lacking in other research efforts, the LAS findings can help both policymakers and practitioners understand how CPS agencies nationwide operate.

The LAS findings provide concrete evidence of both the commonalities and diversity of CPS practices throughout the Nation. The diversity is at the very core of CPS practice. While all CPS agencies investigated child abuse and neglect, they did not all have the same lead responsibility. To a certain degree, the more serious the type of maltreatment, the more likely they were to share the responsibility for investigating the maltreatment. This obviously requires clear lines of responsibility and collaboration in order to be effective.

Furthermore the majority of CPS agencies conceptualized their practice as having different responses for different types of maltreatment. Not only were responsibilities shared, but the responses were different. In general these responses were less focused on obtaining forensic evidence, but the clear difference was that they focused on different types of maltreatment than did investigation.

At each level of practice, the areas of common practice could be identified. A few examples follow:

  • More than two-thirds of agencies always searched CPS records on prior reports on children, searched CPS records related to alleged perpetrators, and used a safety protocol when screening. All other screening activities were conducted with less commonality.
  • More than two-thirds of agencies always considered the severity of the case and the policy defined standards of evidence, reviewed prior records, interviewed or formally observed children, interviewed caretakers, always notified the perpetrator, and entered the name of the perpetrator in the Central Registry, when conducting an investigation.
  • More than two-thirds of agencies always reviewed prior records, interviewed children, and interviewed caretakers when conducting alternative responses. All other possible activities were less consistently practiced.
  • The only instrument that was used by more than two-thirds of agencies in conducting investigations was guidance for establishing risk or safety.

These findings raise important questions for the field. Is the field strengthened or weakened by this diversity? Can agencies be held accountable to their communities and to national standards without a greater understanding of what "should be" common practice? Can families have expectations from agencies that encourage individual assessments, but have few common standards of practice?

The LAS provides data on CPS practice as it existed during 2002. It is hoped that it will assist in planning for improved CPS practices in future years.