A new study suggests Child Protective Services (CPS) caseworkers should use a more all-encompassing approach to improve how they respond to cases of chronic neglect.
Researchers at the University at Buffalo discovered that neglect accounts for more than 70 percent of cases reported nationally to CPS.
While the typical CPS response often focuses on a single case, which might not appear to be a matter of severe harm, a review of previous reports may provide a more comprehensive assessment of the situation.
“It’s difficult to incorporate past allegations of neglect when you’re looking at one incident that may not rise to a level of serious concern,” said Dr. Annette Semanchin Jones, who conducted the research with Dr. Patricia Logan-Greene, also an assistant professor of social work at University at Buffalo.
Their recently published study, which appears in the journal Children and Youth Services Review, suggests that a more holistic approach might improve how CPS responds to cases of chronic neglect.
“For cases of chronic neglect, if workers look over time and consider past allegations more thoroughly they could see an accumulation of harm that is very concerning,” said Semanchin Jones.
Researchers and case workers agree that the lack of a uniform definition of “neglect” is not an easy starting point.
The meaning of neglect can change depending on state standards but, generally, neglect is defined as failing to provide children with adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care, education, and supervision based on their age and development.
Chronic neglect, which also has different definitions from state to state, is recurring cases of neglect within a family, often across multiple developmental stages for children.
Despite its prevalence, neglect is understudied and poorly understood from a research perspective. Semanchin Jones says that may be changing as there is a growing body of literature that indicates how neglect, and chronic neglect in particular, can have serious consequences on a child’s emotional regulation and cognitive development.
The niversity at Buffalo study is among the first to examine cases of chronic neglect with a focus on CPS practices.
The authors conducted a detailed case record review to examine CPS practices related to cases of chronic neglect, studying 38 families that had five or more neglect reports to CPS.
The results found that all of the families had at least four significant stressors, including extreme poverty, parental substance abuse, parental mental health issues, child behavioral problems, or domestic violence.
“This is a finding in itself,” said Semanchin Jones.
“Systems need workers trained to identity these issues. Having good training in place would give workers a foundational knowledge to identify these family challenges early on in the case.”
But the researchers found that case workers sometimes missed evidence of some of these risks.
“There were questions raised about risk assessment procedures,” Semanchin Jones said. “We saw evidence that the standardized processes used for risk assessment didn’t always match the case notes.”
She said better training and implementation of risk assessment protocols may be needed to ensure assessment tools are being used correctly and consistently.
“There needs to be a comprehensive assessment if there is any indication a family is experiencing chronic neglect,” said Semanchin Jones. “Case workers need the tools to look at the history of the case, not just at one incident or one child, but at the whole family.”
A comprehensive assessment can help identify a family’s strengths and challenges.
“They’re dealing with multiple factors. The initial assessment needs to be comprehensive so case workers can respond appropriately,” she said.
The research has lead to beneficial changes.
“Building on these findings, the jurisdiction that was the focus of the study has already made some adjustments to better respond to the needs of these families, including specialized CPS teams with additional training on these issues relate,” Logan-Greene said.
Source: University of Buffalo