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Child Abuse Negl. 2006 Jun;30(6):657-77. Epub 2006 Jun 19.

Child protection and justice systems processing of serious child abuse and neglect cases.

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Westat, Rockville, MD, USA.



The aim of this study was to examine the trajectory of cases through four systems: child protection, law enforcement, the dependency courts, and the criminal courts.


This study focused on a county selected from a 41-county telephone survey conducted for the National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS-3). For this analysis prospective samples were drawn from law enforcement (n=225) and the county child protection (CPS) agency (n=225) and followed through in-depth case tracking across all agencies and through both the dependency and criminal court systems.


The percentage of CPS cases opened in dependency court was similar to prior studies (29%), but the acceptance and prosecution rates were much higher--92% of the cases referred from CPS, including many cases of physical abuse. Compared to referrals from CPS to law enforcement (93%), few cases were referred from law enforcement to CPS (17%). Anecdotally, case referral patterns appeared to be influenced by communication patterns and mutual positive regard, regardless of the collaborative protocols in place. One of the most instructive findings was the degree of difficulty in tracking cases across organizations and the types of obstacles that impeded success. Disorganization was not an issue, rather internal structures set up to facilitate intra-organizational processing were the same structures that actually impeded cross-organizational case finding.


It is not sufficient to rely on the existence of multi-disciplinary teams or Child Advocacy Centers to ensure collaboration. More attention to daily tasks and activities as well as the nature and quality of communication is warranted. On the technical side, use of common case identifiers on cases that are cross-referred is strongly recommended. Future studies should broaden the scope of inquiry to include the consequences of all case trajectories, rather than solely focusing on the justice system.

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