Child Protective Services IneffectiveHow effective is your local child protective services department? You know, that agency which is charged in protecting the health and well-being of children in your community.

Child protective services are not very effective at all, at least when it comes to specific risk factors that could improve a child’s well-being and mental health.

In a nationwide study that examined children in 595 families over a period of 9 years, researchers discovered that in the households where child abuse was substantiated by evidence, risk factors remained unchanged during followup interviews with the families.

The risk factors are considered “modifiable” risk factors — those things which could be changed to enhance the health and well-being of the child. They include things such as social support, family functioning, and child behavioral problems.

But perhaps this should come as little surprise, since most child protective service (CPS) agencies are not charged with specifically addressing these risk factors. Nor can CPS do much about a family’s poverty or improve their connections with their neighbors or friends. Child protective services are focused on immediate threads to the safety of a child, such as domestic violence, neglect, or abuse.

“Our finding that CPS investigation is not associated with improvements in common, modifiable risk factors suggests that we may be missing an opportunity for secondary prevention,” Campbell and colleagues concluded. They noted that CPS investigations provide “unique access into high-risk households” and an opportunity for interventions that “reduce repeat maltreatment and improve outcomes.”

In an accompanying editorial, a pediatrician at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle went further, arguing that the current CPS model “has outlived its usefulness.”

Nothing is likely to change in the short-term, and the long-term outlook doesn’t appear much better. During times of economic upheaval, like now, government cuts back on social services, including services such as CPS. Only by implementing smaller case loads and increasing funding to help children in poverty that goes beyond crisis intervention can these problems be solved.

But we, as a society, have a very short-term view about problems like child abuse and domestic violence. We’re okay with ensuring we remove children from immediate harm’s way, but we do little to provide such children (and their parents) the resources they need to change these behaviors long-term. It’s similar to how we’re more likely to lock up someone with a drug problem than to simply treat the drug problem (even though the latter would be far cheaper in the long run).

Child protective services can be something far more effective to children in need. Without proper funding and attention to this problem, however, little is likely to change. Underprivileged and at-risk children will continue to receive the sad patchwork services they’ve come to expect from the world’s richest nation.

Read the full article: Child Protective Services Found Ineffective



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    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2010
    Published on All rights reserved.

APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2010). Child Protective Services Ineffective. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 18, 2015, from


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