Abstract: Understanding the Context of Child Protective Service Reports of Neglect: A Content Analysis of CPS Investigations (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

Understanding the Context of Child Protective Service Reports of Neglect: A Content Analysis of CPS Investigations

Sunday, January 16, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 12, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Lindsey Palmer, MSW, PhD Student, University of Southern California, CA
Jacquelyn McCroskey, DSW, Professor, University of Southern California, CA
Andrea Eastman, PhD, Research Assistant Professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Emily Putnam-Hornstein, PhD, John A. Tate Distinguished Professor for Children in Need, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Lillie Guo, Research Assistant, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Introduction: Neglect is the most frequently reported type of maltreatment, yet relatively little information exists about the nature of ‘neglect’ experienced or the family circumstances that may have led to the allegation. The purpose of this study to gain a deeper understanding of family circumstances which may have led to an allegation of childhood neglect. This study will address the following research questions: (1) What is the prevalence of five key parental risk factors (substance use, mental health, domestic violence, non-cohabitating parental discord, and lack of resources) as recorded in unstructured child protection screener and investigative notes? (2) What other information can be gleaned from CPS records concerning the nature of a neglect allegation? And, (3) To what extent do these underlying parental risk factors predict the type of maltreatment classified by child protective services?

Research Design and Methods: This is a retrospective, mixed methods study design using both structured and unstructured data fields from administrative child protective services (CPS) records from California. Records are used to identify all children with an investigated allegation in 2017 (N=357,597). A representative statewide sample (based on race/ethnicity, gender, age, referral count, and county) of this population were randomly selected and their records extracted from California’s Child Welfare Services/Case Management System (CWS/CMS). Structured fields were used to formally code children based on demographic characteristics and to classify children’s allegations into one of three neglect-related types as defined by the state: general neglect, severe neglect, and caretaker absence/incapacity. Co-occurring allegations involving other forms of maltreatment will also be coded. Unstructured data will be accessed from the screener narrative (gathered at hotline call) and investigative narrative (gathered during the investigation stage) accompanying each selected record. Records will be coded based on the presence or absence of each of the five parental risk factors outlined above. Validation efforts will include two coders reaching an inter-rater agreement of 0.85. After the unstructured narratives have been coded, overall prevalence rates and rates for each risk factor will be reported. Logistic regression models will be used to examine the unadjusted and adjusted association between parental behaviors and risk factors associated with each type of maltreatment.

Contribution: Administrative records provide an accessible and cost-effective source of data for researching child maltreatment, but most analyses have been confined to information collected in structured fields. This study adds to our knowledge by providing context to an allegation of ‘neglect’ by documenting underlying parental behaviors and risk factors critical to understanding exactly ‘what’ neglect entails. In addition, it allows us an opportunity to better understand the information already being collected by tapping into the unstructured data fields rarely used in maltreatment research. With the recent passage of the Families First Prevention Services Act which redirects CPS dollars to focus on prevention, specifically services aimed at helping the parent or caregiver, understanding the underlying parental behaviors that have led to an allegation of neglect can aid administrators in planning and directing funds to the services needed in order to decrease risk.