Substantiation and Knowledge Sources in Child Protection Decisions
Child Protection Officers (CPO's) have to make multiple decisions throughout the process of working with children and their families. Substantiation of allegation maltreatment is one of the most complicated decision and is often made under great uncertainty. Little research has been done on substantiation judgment processes and the sources of knowledge that underlie this critical judgment. Rosen model is employed to describe the usage of knowledge sources for making decisions.
1. Identify what information leads CPO's to substantiate allegations
2. What sources of knowledge are used to make substantiation judgments
The sample included 81 CPO's who made decisions regarding cases of alleged abuse and neglect of children referred by child protection teams (CPTs) from six hospitals in Israel. Semi-structured face to face interviews were conducted to elicit what were the information cues the CPO's were looking for, which evidence led them to substantiate the allegation, and what sources of knowledge (using Rosens' classification) they employed in the process. The mean number of years as CPO's was 10.42 (S.D. 7.72) years. The referred cases ranged in age from 'at birth' to 18 years old. Two third of the referrals were known to the child protection services before the hospital referral. The interviews were recorded and transcribed. The information items mentioned by the CPO's and their substantiation judgment on each case were coded and statistically analyzed to identify associations. Qualitative thematic analysis was employed to describe how social workers use various sources of knowledge in the judgment process
Severity of harm (e.g. physical signs, sexual abuse), parents' behaviors that endanger their child (e.g. neglect of medical treatment) and parental cooperation with CPO were significantly associated with substantiation. Additionally, almost all the CPO's tend to base their judgment mainly on what they call their 'professional experience'. They distinguish between personal (e.g., being a parent with a difficult child) and their professional (e.g., 'I met many such cases in my practice'). Only half of the CPO's utilized knowledge established on theory or research.
Conclusions and Implications
As expected by the professional literature, maltreatment allegations that indicate high levels of harm to the child, endangering parental behaviors and lack parental collaboration tend to be substantiated. Such judgments are heavily based on professional experience, and not on theory or research. Therefore, it is important to strengthen the empirical base of these judgments through valid and credible assessment tools and providing systematic feedback on past decisions based on follow up measure of outcomes.