When people report child abuse, Child Protective Services ("CPS") workers investigate the referrals. The process of those investigations is governed by the policies and procedures instituted by the administrators and legislators in the state and county of the agency at issue.
The reality of these investigations is also affected by multiple other factors, including staffing, the workloads of the social workers conducting the investigations, supervisor oversight, and a number of human factors, including political pressures and personal predispositions of the investigating staff.
The pressure on CPS workers is of course great, as are the consequences of their daily decision making. It would be difficult to argue that their jobs are easy.
However, because the consequences of the decision making of the investigators receiving child abuse and neglect reports are so important and serious, we need to be mindful that these processes be ultra-fair, ultra-effective, and strongly supported. Most of us would also agree that decision making should always err on the side of protecting a child at potential risk.
The news recently seems awash with problems reported from multiple jurisdictions.
The system in Virginia Beach, Virginia is under fire (again) for the recent death of a malnourished 13-month old boy who appears to have literally starved to death despite numerous reports to CPS. This occurred while the county was in the process of revamping its child protection system after the sad death of a 10-month old child in a foster home three years prior.
CPS actions in Buffalo New York are now being questioned, with several investigations instituted into CPS practices, where a 5-year old boy died of blunt force trauma after what appears to be a severe beating by his mother's boyfriend (who has now been charged with second-degree murder for the death) despite multiple reports by family members. This follows another highly publicized situation in the same jurisdiction in which a 10-year old boy died of an apparent severe beating by his stepfather also after numerous reports to the child protection agency.
We need funding in this area. Workers' caseloads are very high. While laws now generally require reporting of suspicious cases by numerous professionals, we need those referrals to be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly, not dismissed offhand due to immediate denials or lack of direct proof.