One of the main objectives of child protective services (CPS) is to safeguard children that have been reported for possible child maltreatment from subsequent re-reports (U.S. DHHS, 2020). Yet, re-reports are common and children reenter the system as a result of repeated or recurrent maltreatment (Jebwab et al, 2017, Kim et al., 2020). As shown in studies following families with a history of child maltreatment across time, up to 20% of cases reopen within a two-year period (Casanueva et al., 2015), even increasing to 31-60% after three and more years (Connell et al., 2007, Drake et al., 2006; Kim et al., 2020).
There is a vast body of the literature focused on identifying risk factors that contribute to the initial child maltreatment or lead to subsequent re-reports and recurrence. Risk factors contributing to child maltreatment that have been reported in prior studies include various family (Casanueva et al., 2009; Jonson-Reid et al., 2019; Slack et al., 2004) and contextual factors (Coulton et al., 1999; Maguire-Jack & Font, 2014). More recently, the focus has been directed to identifying mechanisms that function as protectors and that prevent rereports of child maltreatment (Green et al., 2020). However, evidence on protective mechanisms is still limited. To fill this gap, this study used the data from the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW II), a national sample of children investigated for child maltreatment, to examine the effects of potential protective factors (warm and supportive home environment, absence of maternal depression, social support, childcare) against repeated child maltreatment of young children across time (18 and 36 months follow up).
Methods and Results:
The study sample was restricted to children ages 0-6 (n=1923) who remained at home with their biological and adoptive mothers after the investigation for possible child maltreatment. Structural equation modeling was used to examine the potential effects of different factors on the prevention of subsequent child maltreatment re-reports. As the analyses showed, early childhood programs, home environment and absence of maternal depression did not function as protective factors against re-reports when controlling for demographics and family level risk factors such as family income, maternal employment status, substance abuse, etc. However, social support received by caregivers, measured with questions about receiving love and affection, having someone who they can trust, being invited out, receiving useful advice about important things in life, etc., appeared to be a strong factor linked to decreased rates of re-reports at both the 18-month (b=-.0029, p=0.001) and the 36-month (b=-.0031, p= 0.001) follow-ups. Similar to previous literature, family income (b=.0556, p=.005) and part-time maternal employment(b= -.1116, p<0.001), used as controls in this this study model, showed significant relationship with subsequent re-reports for both time periods.
Conclusions and Implications:
In this study, social support showed the strongest impact in reducing re-reports of child maltreatment It is salient that interventions that are directed towards preventing an initial or subsequent child maltreatment be focused on helping child welfare families to form strong ties with informal sources of social support.