National Study of Child Protective Services Systems and Reform Efforts. Findings on Local CPS Practices. Joint CPS and Law Enforcement Investigations


Law enforcement, whether police departments, sheriff offices, or the District Attorney's office, has long had a role in collecting evidence to prosecute perpetrators and, in some jurisdictions, in reaching decisions about removal of children from the home. As the evidentiary requirements have grown, CPS practitioners have found the need to clarify roles and reduce duplication of responsibilities in order that the roles of the social services agencies and the law enforcement agencies can be complementary rather than competitive. Some jurisdictions have moved to joint CPS and law enforcement investigations to allow social workers to spend less time on investigation and more time on establishing a relationship with the nonoffending caretaker and the rest of the family.

In Brooks County, the District Attorney's office, three law enforcement agencies, CPS, and numerous other agencies worked together to revise the interagency child abuse protocol, which clarified the role of CPS workers and law enforcement and established a multidisciplinary team for case review. Some of the results, according to those interviewed, included better decisionmaking by caseworkers about how to proceed on a case and reduced revictimization of children. The agency in Butler County also established protocols for joint police and CPS investigations, which clarified roles and responsibilities. The agency in Catawba County went further and co-located law enforcement and CPS staff in an effort to ensure ongoing cooperation in cases of child sexual abuse and extreme physical abuse.

Whenever serious physical abuse, sexual abuse, or a child fatality was alleged in Union County, law enforcement personnel from the sheriff's office accompanied caseworkers from the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to investigate. Even when law enforcement and DCF were not conducting joint investigations, information was shared. For example, if the county sheriff determined that a child was not in "serious" danger, the DCF investigator would conduct the investigation and submit a report to the sheriff's office. The sheriff's office would rely on the DCF worker's judgment. DCF workers stated that joint investigations ensured the protection of endangered children and the safety of the worker.