This study compared the processing of serious child abuse and neglect cases in four systems: child protection services (CPS), law enforcement, the dependency courts, and the criminal courts.
The authors advise that the existence of multidisciplinary teams to manage child maltreatment cases is not sufficient to ensure collaboration among agencies. There should be greater attention to daily cooperative tasks, including the frequency and quality of communication. Further, the use of common identifiers for cases that are cross-referred is recommended. Of the 225 cases in the CPS sample, 66 (29 percent) were opened in dependency court. Seventy-one percent of the 225 CPS cases were investigated by law enforcement, and 51 percent of the CPS cases investigated by law enforcement were then referred to the prosecutor's office (40 percent of all CPS cases). Ninety-two percent of the cases referred to the prosecutor's office (36 percent of the original CPS sample) resulted in criminal charges. Few cases were referred from law enforcement to CPS (17 percent). Although not empirically tested, the authors suggest that case referral patterns were influenced by communication patterns and mutual positive regard between agencies involved in referrals, regardless of the collaborative protocols in place. The study was conducted in a county selected from a 41-county telephone survey conducted for the National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect. It was a mid-size county for which all aspects of the systems' data collection were functional and in which all informants claimed that computerized systems existed to aid sample selection and data collection. Prospective samples were drawn from law enforcement (n=225) and the county CPS agency (n=225) and followed through in-depth case tracking across all agencies and through both the dependency and criminal court systems. 3 tables, 3 figures, and 40 references
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