Abstract: An Analysis of Temporal Dimensions in Maltreatment Reporting and Child Protection Responses (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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An Analysis of Temporal Dimensions in Maltreatment Reporting and Child Protection Responses

Sunday, January 15, 2023
Valley of the Sun C, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Wan-Ting Chen, MS, Doctoral student, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Emily Putnam-Hornstein, PhD, John A. Tate Distinguished Professor for Children in Need, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Background and Purposes: Although emerging health services literature documents that time is a significant factor in patient outcomes, little is known about the role that temporal dimensions may play in maltreatment reporting or child protection responses. To document day- and time-specific patterns that emerge in the context of reports of child abuse and neglect from various reporter sources, while also examining the extent to which those factors emerge as correlates of screening and dispositional outcomes.

Methods: De-identified child protection system (CPS) administrative records were used for the present study. Access to these data fell under a memorandum of understanding with the California Department of Social Services and human subject approvals from both state and university review boards. A population-based dataset consisting of 171,313 maltreatment referrals involving 341,428 unique children in Los Angeles County, California between 2016 and 2017. Temporal dimensions as the independent variables included (1) seasonal dynamics as reflected by month; (2) patterns by individual days categorization (i.e., weekday vs. weekend); (3) patterns by winter holiday flag (Dec 24 to Jan 1); and (4) hourly differences (i.e., daytime vs. night). Outcomes of CPS response were categorized as either a screened-in investigation or a substantiated allegation. Other covariates included child demographics and reporter types as documented on the referral. Logistic regression models were performed to explore the screening and dispositional outcomes as well as temporal dimensions.

Results: A total of 171,313 referrals were screened by Los Angeles County’s CPS hotline. The majority of referrals occurred during spring (27.8%), weekdays (87.4%), non-holidays (98.7%), and during the day (76.9%). However, a greater proportion of referrals during winter holidays (80%), weekends (82.5%), and nights (79.1%) were screened-in for investigation. The crude models showed significant relationships between each pattern of temporal dimensions and CPS response outcomes (p < .05). After adjusting child demographics and reporter types, a weekend referral was associated with increased odds of an investigation (adjusted Odds Ratio [aOR] = 1.24, 95% CI = 1.19, 1.29) and a substantiation (aOR = 1.10, 95% CI = 1.06, 1.15). A referral made in winter positively related to screened-in investigation (aOR = 1.05, 95% CI = 1.02, 1.09), whereas a referral made in summer increased the risk of substantiated allegation (aOR = 1.07, 95% CI = 1.03, 1.12). Child’s referred age under five (aOR = 2.58) and law enforcement reporting resource (vs. social services provider: aOR = 1.75) appear to be the strongest factors for increased screened-in investigation and substantiated allegation, respectively.

Conclusions and Implications: The present study is one of the first studies to explore the pattern of temporal dimensions and its effect on child protection responses. Screening and dispositional outcomes varied significantly by seasonal dynamics and week-time patterns. “System dynamics” have been understudied in CPS and understanding how these factors affect decision making is critical. More research examining the relationships between temporal dimensions and child protection responses is needed within and across jurisdictions.