What Happens After a Report of Child Maltreatment?

After a report is made, it is first “screened” to see if it meets criteria to be assigned for a Child Protection Services (CPS) response. These criteria should be dictated by a state statute, but many mandated reporters and lawyers see significant variation in how state statutes are interpreted or applied at the initial screening stage of the process

If the report meets these criteria, it is assigned to one of two response types:

Investigative Response (Traditional Method): When substantial child endangerment is alleged or maltreatment of a child in a licensed facility (foster home, daycare, etc.) is alleged, such reports must be investigated. Depending on the facts, other cases may be referred for investigation. The police and other professionals may be involved with the investigation. Investigations must begin immediately and include direct contact with the child and the child’s parent (or caregiver). When there is a When there is serious harm or risk of serious harm to a child, the police are authorized to remove a child from his/her family home for a period of 72 hours. CPS may seek Emergency Protective Care by filing a CHIPS petition with the juvenile court. An EPC Order can give CPS the power to keep the child in out-of‐ home care while the investigation is completed.

The focus of an investigation is fact‐finding related to the current safety of a child and the risk of subsequent maltreatment. Some refer to the Investigative Response as a deficit‐based model.

The investigation must ultimately determine:

  1. whether child maltreatment occurred; and
  2. whether child protection services are needed

Family Assessment Response (Alternative Method): When the alleged child maltreatment does not involve substantial child endangerment, the report may receive a referral to Family Assessment. This is considered the preferred response for such cases. The Family Assessment is defined as a “comprehensive assessment of child safety, risk of subsequent child maltreatment,  and family strengths and needs” .

This does NOT include a determination as to whether child maltreatment occurred. In contrast, this is intended to be a non-confrontational, strengths based model ultimately leading to a determination of:

  1. Whether services are needed to address the safety of the child and other family members; and
  2. The risk of subsequent maltreatment.

Following the assessment, the family may be offered services on a “voluntary” basis. However if the family doesn’t cooperate with the Family Assessment Response process or declines to use the proposed services, the response track may be changed.