TheCPS system is a response system. It does not seek out and identify children who are maltreated. Nor does it encourage parents to seek help with their children. Instead, it is a system that responds to reports or referrals by professionals and other community members. The proportions of reports by professionals and nonprofessionals have not varied over the last several years.(1) There was, however, variation among States in defining the categories of mandated reporters.Almost all States required professionals to report suspected child abuse or neglect. In approximately one-quarter of the States, nonprofessional sources, including parents, relatives, and community members, as well as professionals, were required to report. Two-thirds of States accepted reports from anonymous reporters; one-third did not.(2)
There would be tensions in deciding whether to increase who would be required to report or to decrease or eliminate the requirements for reporting. The wider the requirement that persons report suspected maltreatment, the more referrals a department could expect to receive. (This phenomenon was noted in Idaho, a number of years ago, when the department undertook special efforts to encourage all citizens to report what they thought might be maltreatment.) The workload for screeners or for investigation staff would also increase, as would the number of children who were found to need services. This would result in an increase in the need for training and outreach to the population of professionals and nonprofessionals. If the requirement were narrowed, the CPS agency might improve its ratio of substantiated reports to all investigated reports, resulting in some increases in efficiency. For example, a higher proportion of reports by professionals have been found to be substantiated compared to reports by nonprofessionals.3 However, the agency could also risk missing some children who were in need. Extensive public information and training of mandated reporters would be critical. Coordination with other agencies would also be necessary to meet the service needs of families who would not be part of the CPS system.
The dilemmas posed by such tensions might inhibit State agencies from changing their policies except when required to do so under legislation. Nevertheless, if there were more uniformity among States and local communities, the public might respond more consistently to instances of abuse and neglect, thus helping to protect children.