When a referral is received, a number of options may be defined in policy for appropriate action based on screening criteria. The three most common pathways specified as outcomes of the screening decision were for the case to be accepted for investigation, referred to another agency, or screened out. (See table 3-F.)
Forty-five States (88.2%) indicated that reports could be referred to other agencies. Examples of cases to be referred cases to outside agencies included:
- Requests for information;
- Report of maltreatment where the alleged perpetrator is not in a caretaking role;
- Other service needs;
- Case involves a criminal investigation;
- Case does not pertain to child abuse or neglect; and
- Agency receiving report does not have jurisdiction.
Thirty-two States (62.7%) indicated that a possible outcome of screening was to refer the case to another part of the child welfare agency. Criteria for referring cases to other child welfare units included:
- Requests for information;
- Service needs, but no safety issues; and
- Reports that do not pertain to child abuse or neglect.
Twenty-two States (43.1%) had provisions for sharing case information with other agencies (most commonly law enforcement). Thirteen States (25.5%) identified the assignment of a case to an alternative response as an option at the point of screening. Nine States (17.6%) identified screening outcomes that fell into the "other" category, such as, insufficient information to identify the child or family, maltreatment types that do not fall within the child protection mandate, and identification of an Indian child.
State policies indicated that a decision protocol for forwarding cases for investigation was applied to the majority of cases. In 29 States (56.9%) there was one approach to decision making across cases. Of these States, 13 primarily relied upon the worker's decision with supervisor approval; 2 relied on the worker alone making the decision; 7 relied upon the supervisor making the decision; 5 relied upon a joint worker and supervisor decision; and 2 had other protocols.
In the majority of the remaining States, there were different protocols related to different case circumstances. For example most investigations might be decided by only the worker, unless the case was considered to be marginal, or the supervisor might review specific types of cases. Examples included screened-out cases, referrals for special service needs, immediate response referrals, cases where eligibility is in question, or cases where a mandated reporter makes reports.
In some cases, State policies described a procedure that fell into the "other" category. These "other" cases generally involved joint decisionmaking processes by two different child protection entities. Examples of different configurations of decisionmaking processes included:
- A hotline operator makes the decision and a supervisor assigns a priority;
- Quality assurance (QA) reviews are done for two samples of cases--one by a supervisor and one by a QA unit; workers' decisions may be overridden;
- Supervisors review cases involving very young children or screened-out reports;
- Joint decisionmaking between the State and the county, with the State having the final responsibility;
- Decision to forward a case is made by a multidisciplinary team;
- Cases in which a response priority is downgraded requires administrator approval;
- Decision to forward is made by a child protective services counselor with supervisor approval; and
- When a worker and supervisor disagree on whether or not to substantiate, a final decision is made by the district director or assistant district director.