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.