Rereporting and Recurrence of Child Maltreatment: Findings from NCANDS. Discussion and Conclusions

07/30/2005

Approximatly one-third of children with an allegation that they had been maltreated experienced at least one additional report within a 5-year period. When a subset of children were followed for 3 years, it was found that, on average, children who were rereported experienced approximately two rereports (the average was 1.7 rereports per child who had more than one report). Among children who were initially identified as victims, 17 percent were again identified as victims within a 5-year period. Based on 3 years of followup, victims who were revictimized were found to be victims one more time within the 3 years (the average was 1.3 recurrences per children who were ever victimized). In other words, the phenomenon of being rereported was approximately two times as likely as being found to be revictimized. Most children who experienced more than one rereport or revictimization experienced these events within a short time after the initial event. As the length of the followup observation period increased, the frequency of rereports and revictimizations per child decreased.

Factors Associated with Rereporting and Recurrence

Although they occur with different frequency, many similar factors were related to rereporting and recurrence. Similar factors were related to single subsequent events and to multiple subsequent events. For example, both rereporting and recurrence occurred more frequently among younger children; younger children experienced more subsequent reports compared with older children. Service provision was associated with a greater likelihood of rereporting and recurrence. Caretaker alcohol abuse was associated with increased likelihood of the child experiencing rereporting and recurrence. The shared risk factors that influenced both rereporting and recurrence lends credence to the idea that the children experienced these events for similar reasons.

However, some differences were found between the factors that increased childrens likelihood of rereporting and recurrence. To some extent these differences were due to the nature of the available data. For example, children who were found to be victims in an initial report were more likely to be rereported, compared with children who were not initially victims  a factor that cannot be examined for recurrence since all children were initially victims by definition. Likewise, although it could not be tested for rereporting, children who experienced neglect, multiple types of maltreatment, and "other" forms of maltreatment were more likely to experience recurrence, compared with children who experienced physical or sexual abuse. However, differences between these two populations may be intrinsic. For example, children who were placed in foster care were more likely to be rereported, but less likely to experience recurrence. Girls were found to be somewhat more likely than boys to be rereported, but not to experience recurrence. Child disability was associated with a higher likelihood of rereporting, but not with more recurrence. Despite the elevated risk for younger children for any subsequent event, infants were not more likely to be rereported, compared with toddlers, but were more likely to experience recurrence. In a seemingly contradictory manner, infants had comparatively more multiple rereports, but fewer multiple revictimizations.

Implications for Reducing Rereporting and Recurrence

One prevalent assumption with respect to rereporting and recurrence is they represent events in which CPS was not successful in keeping children safe from further harm. Given this assumption, reducing the frequency of rereporting  and especially recurrence  are important goals for the system. This study has shown that some factors that influence likelihood of rereporting and recurrence are directly related to the provision of services. This poses a problem in identifying and understanding system indicators of safety.

To further attempt to understand the relationship between service provision and CPS re-involvement, statistical interactions between services and initial victimization among all children who were reported were tested. The analysis found that rereporting was higher among victims and nonvictims who had received services than those who did not receive services. Nonvictims who received services had the highest likelihood of rereporting. Although the action of rereporting is not directly controlled by the CPS agency and unobserved factors may be operating, it appears from these data that service provision raises the possibility of being rereported for both victims and nonvictims.

Foster care placement data provided another example of how intervention is associated with rereporting and recurrence. Victims who were removed from the home were less likely to be rereported or revictimized, whereas nonvictim children who were placed in foster care were more likely to be rereported. A fuller understanding of how placement services interact with rereporting and recurrence could be addressed by linking the NCANDS data set with the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) data set. The process of linking these data sets is currently in the formative phase.

The variation among other factors related to rereporting and likelihood of recurrence suggest some interesting hypotheses. For example, caretaker alcohol abuse appeared to increase childrens likelihood of both rereporting and recurrence, whereas child disability was only tied to increased rereporting, but was not a statistically significant risk factor for recurrence. One might hypothesize that even though children with disabilities were at risk, the CPS agency was more effective at responding to victims with disabilities than nonvictim children with disabilities. In contrast, the system may have had more limited success in mitigating risk for children whose parents abused alcohol. A possible implication of this hypothesis is that more effective alcohol treatment services for parents generally could reduce reporting and recurrence. Another implication is that effective services should be provided whenever the investigated children are disabled.

Conclusions

Previous research has highlighted the difficulty of developing comprehensive services that are effective in reducing rereporting. Policies and practices designed to address the common risk factors may be effective in addressing the range of rereporting outcomes. For example, policies aimed at reducing maltreatment among young children and children whose parents abuse alcohol may be effective in addressing both rereporting and recurrence.

Findings from this study also draw attention to a group of children who experience a brief period of intense involvement with the CPS system. While this is a relatively small fraction of the children, gaining a clearer understanding of this population may serve to highlight needed areas of improvement in the system of intervention. In particular, young children who have already experienced multiple victimizations are at particular risk for continuing to recur and to have these events occur rapidly. Among these children, both intense services and surveillance may be a continuous requirement to help insure their safety and prevent serious long-term harm.

In some cases, providing services will increase rereporting. The source of the increased risk associated with service provision  intrinsic risk or surveillance  is difficult to identify. It is likely to be some combination of the two. However, another important issue raised by this research is the usual consideration of rereporting and recurrence as negative outcomes. If rereporting is being increased by the surveillance effect of service provision, actual maltreatments are being reported that otherwise would never have been made known. Following initial investigations that did not result in findings of victimization, families who were sent home without any services may have actually been continuing to maltreat their children. Without continued services, and without surveillance of continued CPS involvement, such maltreatments may continue behind closed doors. Under these circumstances, a lower rate rereporting alone does not necessarily indicate success of the CPS system.

The use of NCANDS data in this study has been successful in surfacing consistent, yet perplexing, issues surrounding the use of rereporting and recurrence as performance measures for CPS. Many of these issues can be resolved if the data are supplemented with data that are more precise in the area of risk factor identification and with more detail about service provision. Further, the analysis of trajectories was limited to bivariate analysis and could benefit from multivariate approaches that would help to isolate clusters of children that share common trajectories. Nevertheless, this first-time look at rereporting and long-term recurrence in the NCANDS data has revealed some important patterns, including the continued role of services associated with elevated risk, the differential risk tied to maltreatment type, and the importance of the age of the child. Ideally, the analysis will encourage continued discussion regarding how rereporting and recurrence are measured as performance indicators, facilitate the design and implementation of more effective and targeted services, and help in focusing continued inquiry regarding children who are at risk.

While the condition of being found to be a victim of child maltreatment may be assumed to be more severe than the condition of having been reported to the CPS agency, there is some evidence that all children who are reported represent a group for whom developmental delays, poor health, and other negative aspects of well-being are common (English, 2003). For this reason, it may be appropriate for CPS agencies to consider increasing their attention on all children who are rereported, regardless of their dispositional finding.

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