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

04/01/2003

Several core components of policy regarding investigatory processes were identified.

  • Maltreatment definitions.  Almost all States included definitions of the four major types of maltreatment that are specifically discussed in CAPTA--neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse. Forty-one States also included definitions of one or more additional forms of maltreatment, such as abandonment, lack of supervision, medical neglect, or risk of harm.
  • Investigation disposition options.  Forty-eight States had definitions of substantiated and unsubstantiated investigation dispositions. Fourteen States included a definition of "unable to determine or complete" as a possible investigation outcome, and eight States included an "indicated" category in which there was reason to believe, but not proof, that maltreatment occurred.
  • The role of law enforcement.  Virtually all the States specified in law or policy specific types of cases in which law enforcement should be involved in investigations. In most States, law enforcement had authority for the emergency removal of children from the home in cases of severe maltreatment.
  • Level of evidence.  In 23 States, policy specified that relatively high evidentiary standards (preponderance, material, or clear and convincing) must be met before an allegation may be substantiated. In 19 States, lower standards were specified (credible, reasonable, or probable cause).
  • Use of safety and risk assessments.  Most States specified the use of safety and risk assessments as tools to guide decisionmaking regarding intervention. Forty-two States specified the use of a risk assessment, 42 States specified use of a safety assessment, and 35 States specified both a safety and a risk assessment in policy.
  • Timeframes for completing an investigation.  Four States required investigations to be completed within 2 weeks; 20 States within 2-4 weeks; and 23 States allowed some or all investigations to be completed within more than 4 weeks.
  • Use of the Central Registry.  All States had policy regarding a Central Registry or other record keeping system to track reports of abuse and neglect. However, there was less uniformity regarding what is included in the registry. In 23 States, the Central Registry was restricted to substantiated reports. Fifteen States had State-specific restrictions, and 10 States had policies that enabled them to maintain all reports on the Central Registry. State policies also varied regarding the use of Central Registry information.
  • Provision of short-term services and service planning.  Just over three-quarters of States (39) had policy that specified that workers were required to provide short-term services during the investigation, if needed. Thirty-eight States had policies regarding workers to plan for ongoing services.

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