Child Protective ServicesComplex Challenges Require New Strategies Gao ID: HEHS-97-115 July 21, 1997
The child protective services system, which investigates reports of child maltreatment, is plagued by a host of problems, including growing caseloads, complex social problems underlying child abuse, and weaknesses in day-to-day operations. Child protective services operations have been hampered by difficulty in maintaining a skilled workforce, inconsistency in following key policies and procedures designed to protect children, the absence of useful case data and recordkeeping systems, and the lack of good working relationships with the courts. In response to this crisis, states and localities are testing new strategies for service delivery. States and localities are also forming partnerships with families, friends, churches, and community groups to help keep children safe from maltreatment. For example, in Missouri, caseworkers team with community partners to deliver services to families in which the risk of harm to a child is believed to be low, such as in child neglect. As state and local child protective services units experiment with new strategies, they will need more focused support and improved technical assistance from the federal government.
GAO noted that: (1) the CPS system is in crisis, plagued by difficult problems, such as growing caseloads, increasingly complex social problems underlying child maltreatment, and ongoing systemic weaknesses in day-to-day operations; (2) the states GAO visited have experienced large increases in maltreatment reports in recent years, thus increasing the CPS caseload to an overwhelming level; (3) in addition, states report that families are entering the system with multiple problems, among the most common of which is an increase in substance abuse; (4) experts consider this increase to be a significant factor in maltreatment, which has caught all parts of the CPS system unprepared; (5) CPS units have been plagued by long-standing systemic weaknesses in day-to-day operations, including difficulty in maintaining a skilled workforce, consistently following key policies and procedures designed to protect children, developing useful case data and recordkeeping systems, such as automated case management, and establishing good working relationships with the courts; (6) in response to this crisis, states and localities are testing new strategies for service delivery; (7) given the increased volume and severity of the cases, CPS units find that using traditional approaches, they can no longer handle all reports alleging abuse or neglect; (8) as a result, states and localities are also focusing on forming partnerships with families, churches, and community organizations to help keep children safe from maltreatment; (9) these partnerships enable CPS units to share responsibility for intervening in various types of maltreatment cases; (10) these new strategies, however, are not without certain challenges, such as: (a) adapting to new caseworker roles, required by new responsibilities; and (b) the underlying systemic weaknesses that diminish day-to-day operational effectiveness; (11) as state and local CPS units experiment with new strategies aimed at better coping with rising and complex caseloads, units will need more focused support and improved technical assistance from the federal government; (12) previous federal research has concentrated on the causes of maltreatment and on ways to treat abused and neglected children and their families, rather than on topics that support the states' community-based response to the CPS crisis; (13) similarly, federally provided technical assistance has also been limited in helping the states develop new strategies to address this crisis; and (14) in addition, dissemination of federal research findings and practical information is lacking.Recommendations
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