Study: CPS Investigations Didn’t Improve Risks for Children

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Investigations by Child Protective Services in cases of suspected maltreatment did not result in any improvement in the at-risk factors for the children, according to a new study published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.  The authors of “Household, Family, and Child Risk Factors After an Investigation for Suspected Child Maltreatment” (http://archpedi.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/164/10/943) found that the wellbeing of most subjects who had been actively investigated by CPS did not differ greatly from that of other children who had been reported as possibly maltreated, but not investigated.

Children who had been investigated and those who had not been in contact with CPS reflected similar levels in seven “modifiable risk factors” – including family functioning, poverty, maternal education, and depressive or destructive child behaviors –  that could lead to maltreatment. The researchers suggest that the findings show that CPS provided little benefit to the families with which it came into contact. The one risk factor that somewhat differentiated between the two groups? Maternal depression levels.

The authors suggested that the outcome of their study could be because the investigations didn’t focus on the risk factors they studied and called the investigations “missed opportunities” to help the children.  Their data was from between 1991 and 2000.

CPS officials interviewed about the study said that their approach to such investigations has changed dramatically over the past decade, with new models that focus on providing family support, much as suggested by the study. They also said their interventions cannot address all of the factors suggested by the researchers.

 In Maryland, the “Family-Centered Practice Model” was created three years ago, designed to make CPS workers and family members into a team, ready to get at the root of problems that may lead to maltreatment.

The new approach does not “just [focus] on investigating the incident, which lets us in the door, but [looks] at other risk factors and what does this family need assistance with,” said Debbie Ramelmeier, deputy executive director for Programs and Social Service Administration. The new model also includes input from “other involved parties,” like school officials, in order to “intervene in a way that’s beneficial to the family.” Indiana has developed a similar family-focused model.

The authors of the study examined 595 subjects whose maternal caregivers had remained the same between ages 4 and 8 and who had participated in surveys conducted by the Longitudinal Studies of Abuse and Neglect. Data collection continued on the subjects until they were 18. Of those subjects, 164 had been investigated by CPS at some point between the ages of 4 and 8 – but not removed from the family home.  About 20 percent of CPS investigations result in removal.

In 2007, CPS reviewed 3.2 million cases of suspected child maltreatment. According to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report from that same year, less than half of the cases that were investigated – 38 percent – received “post-investigative services.”

Though the new family-based models may help reduce risk factors, Ramelmeier said that, at the end of the day, CPS exists for one specific purpose – to investigate maltreatment.

“You really have to define what it is you think [CPS] is going to do,” she said. “Is it going to solve all of the social ills of society? No, nor is that what it is intended to do.”