Rereporting and Recurrence of Child Maltreatment: Findings from NCANDS. Introduction


Children come to the attention of the State or local child protective services (CPS) agency based on referrals from the public alleging child abuse or neglect. It is the responsibility of the CPS agency to decide what, if any, response should be made to ensure the safety of the children. Referrals are made by professional reporters, such as school or medical personnel, or by persons who make the allegation based on familial or neighborhood contacts with the child. Referrals may be screened out and the caller may be referred to another agency. Screened-in referrals, or reports, may be subject to an investigation by CPS to determine the validity of the report and the safety issues of the child, or an assessment process which may focus more on the needs of the family.

During the investigation, decisions regarding ongoing services are made. Also, the decision is made whether the children in the report have been maltreated or are at risk of maltreatment. Beyond the investigation process, a particular family can take various paths through the service delivery system. Services may terminate with the investigation, or in-home services or substitute care may be provided. At some point, children in substitute care may be reunited with their families and receive family reunification services or parental rights may be terminated and the child freed for adoption.

Regardless of the case flow process, most children who are the subject of a referral are involved just once over the course of their lives with CPS. Other children are referred more than once and their referrals result in repeated investigations or assessments (rereporting). Some of these children are found to have been revictimized (recurrence). These two phenomena, rereporting and recurrence, are the subjects of this paper.

Most previous studies of subsequent reports alleging maltreatment of the same child or of revictimization have included only small populations, administrative data from only one State, or relatively short observation periods. Furthermore, the literature has not always been clear as to which category of repeated activity has occurred. Was the child rereported? Was the child rereported and found to be a victim? Was the child rereported and not found to be a victim? This paper uses the following terminology:

  • Referral: the process that results in the agencys decision to either provide an investigation or assessment or to screen out the referral;
  • Report: a referral that has been accepted for investigation or assessment;
  • Initial Report: the first investigation or assessment within an observation period that occurs for a specific child who has not been the subject of a prior investigation or assessment;
  • Rereport: the second, third, fourth, or subsequent report that alleges a child has been maltreated and that receives an investigation or assessment by the CPS agency (also called reinvestigation);
  • Victim: a child who has been determined by the CPS agency to have been maltreated;
  • Recurrence: the second, third, fourth, or subsequent time that a child has been found to be a victim of maltreatment (also called revictimization or repeated maltreatment); and
  • Nonvictim: a child who has not been found to have been maltreated.

In addition to these terms describing these events, the length of time that children are followed can influence the number of events that can be observed. Therefore, this study follows children for up to 5 years.

Relevant Research

The research relevant to this topic encompasses studies on the following topics:

  • Factors associated with repeated involvement (rereporting or recurrence) with CPS;
  • Factors associated with just recurrence;
  • The impact of service provision; and
  • Patterns of maltreatment events.

Factors Associated with Repeated Involvement with CPS
Studies found the following factors to be associated with a higher likelihood of multiple occurrences of involvement with CPS:

  • A prior history of involvement with CPS (Hamilton & Browne, 1999; Littell, 1997; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2004);
  • Younger children (Ferleger, Glenwick, Gains, & Green, 1988; Fluke, Yuan, & Edwards, 1999; Fryer & Miyoshi, 1994; Hamilton & Browne, 1999; Marshall & English, 1999; Drake, Jonson-Reid, Way, & Chung, 2003);
  • The presence of disability (Marshall & English, 1999; Hamilton & Browne, 1999; Palusci, 2002);
  • The presence of neglect or multiple types of maltreatment (Herrenkohl, Herrenkohl, Newman & Egolf, 1978; Baird, 1988; DePanfilis & Zuravin, 1999a; Fluke et al., 1999; Marshall & English, 1999; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2004; Drake et al., 2003 ), particularly lack of supervision (Jonson-Reid, Drake, Chung & Way, 2003); and
  • Larger family size (Baird, 1988; Johnson & LEsperance, 1984).

While the evidence is somewhat weaker, repeated involvement with CPS also has appeared greater for the following situations:

  • Family situations in which a parent was the perpetrator, rather than situations in which the perpetrator was another relative, friend of the family, or unrelated acquaintance (Drake et al., 2003);
  • A stepparent perpetrator was present (Hamilton & Browne, 1999);
  • The caregiver abused alcohol or drugs or was a subject of domestic violence (Baird, 1988; DePanfilis & Zuravin, 1999b; Palusci, 2002; English, Wingard, Marshall, Orme & Orme, 2000; Terling, 1999);
  • The family had few social supports (DePanfilis & Zuravin, 1999b) or is of low economic status (Drake et al., 2003; English & Marshall, 1998; Levy, Markovic, Chaudhry, Ahart, & Torres, 1995; Way, Chung, Jonson-Reid & Drake, 2001; Jonson-Reid, 2003); or
  • The child lived in previous, multiple, foster care settings (Jonson-Reid, 2003).

In one study, children whose parents abused alcohol or other drugs were found more likely to be rereported if the caretaker was judged to be at high risk for criminal involvement, there was no police involvement during the investigation, and if the family was headed by an African-American single mother. The authors posited that the higher reporting rates of pregnant African-American women with lower incomes and problems with alcohol or other drugs may have influenced this finding (Fuller & Wells, 2003).

Factors Associated with Recurrence
State administrative data on child abuse have consistently indicated that African-American children were less likely to experience recurrence compared with White children (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2004). Other studies have suggested there may be regional variations in recurrence rates experienced by children of color (Fuller, Wells & Cotton, 2001). These rates were perhaps influenced by factors associated with poverty (Way et al., 2001) or living in a rural area (Baird, 1988; English, Marshall, Brummel & Orme, 1999; Marshall & English, 1999).

There is evidence that the factors that best predict recurrence may change over the life of a case (Fuller et al., 2001; Jonson-Reid et al., 2003). For example, longitudinal analysis has suggested that the response of the CPS system may change with the age of the child or with the number of times that a child was referred to the agency (Jonson-Reid et al., 2003). Female victims of sexual abuse have been found to be more likely to be rereported for the same type of maltreatment; older children are more likely to have been rereported for physical abuse (Johnson-Reid et al., 2003).

The Impact of Service Provision
Some studies have found that the provision of services was associated with an increased likelihood of rereporting. Children who received services may have been more likely to be rereported because they were more in contact with professional reporters, were the subjects of a heightened awareness of the public, or because the services were not effective in ameliorating their living conditions (Johnson, 2000; Fluke et al., 1999; DePanfilis, 1995; Johnson & Clancy, 1989; Sundell & Vinnerljung, 2004).

Other studies have found that service provision following a substantiated report reduced the likelihood of rereporting, particularly for cases involving neglect (Drake et al., 2003). Another study found that children who remained in foster care for fewer than 3 months were more likely to be rereported, found to be a repeated victim of maltreatment, and returned to foster care than were children who stayed in foster care for longer periods of time (Jonson-Reid, 2003). The provision of in-home services following foster care did not appear to reduce the likelihood of revictimization (Jonson-Reid, 2003). Other specific services or methods of service provision, such as attention to the fidelity of the service plan, family compliance with the service plan, or service quantity, appeared to reduce the likelihood of recurrence (see DePanfilis & Zuravin, 2002; Johnson, 2000; Inkelas & Halfon, 1997; Lutzker & Rice, 1987).

Patterns of Maltreatment Events
Some studies have shown that patterns of rereports and revictimization intensify with time for some groups of children, and in turn these patterns impact the nature and intensity of the intervention (English, 2003). Further, a study of alternative response program outcomes suggested that within a 6-month period, families who were diverted to an alternative response program but did not receive services were rereported sooner than other families who had not received services. However, overall, rates of rereporting were similar between those families who received traditional CPS response, those who were rereported but received no services or only an assessment from the alternative response program, and families who received services following an alternative response assessment (English et al., 2000).

Study Questions

The first two research questions determined baseline statistics for this study.

  1. What proportion of reported children were rereported, and when?
  2. What proportion of child victims had a recurrence of maltreatment, and when?

The second two research questions addressed the factors associated with rereporting and recurrence.

  1. What factors were associated with children who were rereported over a period of time?
  2. What factors were associated with children who had a recurrence of one or more maltreatments over time?

The following categories of factors were examined for their impact on the likelihood of a child experiencing any single rereport or recurrence:

  • Child demographics;
  • Circumstances of maltreatment;
  • Family and child risk factors; and
  • Outcomes of intervention.

Two factors were examined for their association with repeated CPS interventions:

  • Length of time between events; and
  • Child age at initial report.

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