National Study of Child Protective Services Systems and Reform Efforts. Review of State CPS Policy. Introduction


This review of CPS policies in the States has inventoried the major components governing front-end service provision by CPS agencies. These components cover the core functions of screening and intake, investigation, and in many States, alternative response options. The review established the following overall observations.

  • CPS policy covered each step of the referral process--from receiving referrals to making conclusions about the referrals;
  • The procedures and practices were described in great detail in most manuals;
  • Responsibility for decisionmaking was primarily conducted at the local agency level, regardless of administrative structure;
  • There was a great deal of commonality among State policies; and
  • There was also a great deal of variation in certain areas, which may indicate tensions in the field.

This chapter will focus on the implications of selected areas of variation in State CPS policy. There are two perspectives from which such variation is of interest. One perspective is in terms of best practice. Are some approaches or requirements better than others? Should these be encouraged and more widely adopted? A second perspective relates to community values. Does variation reflect differences in community standards? Underlying both perspectives are questions of accountability and equity. Would increased commonality among State policies help further greater accountability of the CPS system? Would citizens receive more equitable treatment, if policies were more common?

This chapter does not seek to answer such questions, but rather to identify the areas of variation that need further attention in terms of actual practice. The overarching goal of all CPS agencies is to ensure that children are safe from abuse and neglect. Policy variations may have meaningful impacts on achieving this goal.

The areas of variation that are identified and briefly discussed are as follows:

  • Mandated reporters,
  • Investigation objectives,
  • Standards of evidence,
  • Types of maltreatment,
  • Required timelines, and
  • Due process requirements.

In addition, the use of alternative response options is also briefly discussed.

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