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

04/01/2003

Statesvaried in their definitions of the purpose of the investigation.In 31 States, the purpose was to determine if child abuse had occurred; 18 of these States also included the purpose of determining risk or safety of the child. In the remaining 20 States, policy stated the purpose of investigations was to protect the child or to establish the risk or safety of the child, but did not specifically mention making a determination.

The issue is further complicated by variation in standards of evidence and in the dispositions available to workers. There was considerable variation among States in both areas. Twenty-three States had relatively high standards for substantiation--most requiring preponderance of evidence. Nineteen States had lower standards, including credible or reasonable evidence, or probably cause. Nine States did not specify a standard.The majority of States used two levels of decisions (founded or unfounded; substantiated or unsubstantiated), while eight States had three levels of decisions, and some States had more than three.

These three dimensions of investigation--purpose, standards of evidence, and disposition options--may contribute to variations in the impact of CPS upon the community. For example, earlier research has shown that States with more disposition categories had higher rates of substantiation.4 In 2001, State victimization rates varied from 1.6 per 1,000 children in the general population to 82.6 per 1,000 children in the general population, with a national rate of 12.4 per 1,000 children.5 Thus, it appears that differences in policy, as well as other factors, may contribute to significant differences in responses to children and their families.

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