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Study helps state identify family risk factors for child abuse

Posted July 2, 2015

A new analysis from the La Follette School of Public Affairs may help Wisconsin prevent more cases of child abuse by detecting patterns associated with cases returning to the system after initially being screened out.

“Families initially screened out and then screened in likely would have benefited from earlier contact with services,” says one of the authors, Brianne Monahan. “While Child Protective Services staff likely did not make mistakes in the initial screening process, the situation of these families might have been deteriorating and then worsened to degree that a situation led to a later report that qualified as abuse. We understood the initial screened out report not as a case of misclassified abuse, but a signal that a family could be in need of services.”

This report identifies several factors associated with families that are initially screened out and then screened in to Child Protective Services. These factors include an allegation of physical or emotional abuse, a young child being in the household, or a child having a documented disability. The report also examined factors that increased a family’s likelihood of having a substantiated finding of abuse. “Notably, a family screened out prior to being screened in was less likely to have a substantiated finding of abuse than a family screened in on an initial report,” Monahan says.

The report recommends that the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families initiate and maintain a flag within its systems to better track families that are initially screened out and then screened in. The department should use this tracking system to produce an annual report on these families and share that information with counties.

“The report recommends that DCF also consider expanding community response programs to provide access to support services for families initially screened out of Child Protective Services,” Monahan says. “The agency also should consider a cost-benefit analysis of establishing a centralized call system to receive maltreatment reports to limit variation by county in screening.”

Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison

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