Child Protective Services is the name of a governmental agency in many states in the United States that responds to child abuse and neglect. Some states use other names, often attempting to reflect more family-centered (as opposed to child-centered) practices, such as "Department of Children & Family Services" (DCFS).

Functions[edit | edit source]

CPS agencies generally perform a series of functions that can be identified as follows:

  1. Intake: Receive reports of child maltreatment allegations. In most states, everyone is a mandatory reporter, with the following exceptions: attorneys representing clients on child-maltreatment criminal charges; and, substance-abuse treatment providers.
  2. Screening the Report: determine if a received report's allegations meet statutory definitions for child maltreatment. If statutory definitions are met, then the report is accepted for investigation/assessment; otherwise, it is screened out and might be forwarded to another agency.
  3. Investigation/Assessment: if a received report is accepted, then CPS "investigates" or "assesses" the allegations through contacts with the family and pertinent collateral-information providers. Home visits are usually included although different states have different restrictions regarding this.
  4. Case Decision: if the child-maltreatment allegations prove sufficiently credible and/or if the family is in need of services to prevent future maltreatment (independent of the parents/caregivers' actions), either involuntary or voluntary post-investigative services are generally provided.
  5. Treatment/Case Management: CPS case-management/treatment services are provided to a family to prevent or address child maltreatment. If the child's remaining in the home creates an imminent or significant long-term risk to the child's safety, then arrangement for the child's placement outside of the home is made either with the family's consent or through the courts. (See also, foster care.)
  6. Case Closure: if the case decision found no need for follow-up services by CPS, or if the family and/or community has addressed all risk factors that lead to the provision of CPS case-management services, or if a family's rights to a child is terminated and the child has been adopted, then the case can be closed.

Laws & Standards[edit | edit source]

Federal[edit | edit source]

U.S. federal laws that govern CPS agencies include:

  • Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA)
  • Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA)
  • Multi-Ethnic Placement Act (MEPA)
  • Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA)

State & Local[edit | edit source]

Definitions: Each state must also have statutes that provide more detailed definitions of what child maltreatment means, for instance, defining terms such as:

  1. abuse, which might include:
    • physical abuse
    • sexual abuse
    • emotional abuse (not recognized by all states)
  2. neglect, which might include:
    • lack of supervision
    • failure to provide necessary medical or remedial care
    • inappropriate discipline
    • exposure to domestic violence
    • exposure to parental substance abuse
  3. alleged perpetrator, which might include:
    • parents
    • other relatives
    • other in-home adults
    • guardians, custodians, caregiver/caretaker
    • daycare staff (not all states)
    • residential treatment (e.g., group home) staff (not all states)

Activities: States must articulate how a CPS agency is to respond to alleged maltreatment including:

  • timeframes for responding to different levels of child maltreatment
  • manner in which reporters are provided follow-up information (e.g., case disposition letters)
  • confidentiality restrictions (e.g., which may differ during the investigative and case-management phases)
  • conflict-of-interest cases (e.g., a CPS agency would not investigate a report against their own staff)

Additionally, state and local CPS-related institutions will develop policies and practices that further shape communities' response to child maltreatment. Examples include:

  • Coordinating efforts between CPS, law enforcement, schools, mental health and other institutions.
  • Providing further standards for defining maltreatment, such as how does one define "inappropriate discipline."
  • Maintaining records and/or centralized databases regarding reports and families.
  • Appeal processes, if any.
  • CPS-related court processes.

History[edit | edit source]

In 1655, in what is now the United States, there were criminal court cases involving child abuse.[1] In 1692, states and municipalities identified care for abused and neglected children as the responsibility of local government and private institutions.[2] In 1696, England first used the legal principle of parens patriae, which gave the royal crown care of "charities, infants, idiots, and lunatics returned to the chancery." This principal of parens patriae has been identified as the statutory basis for U.S. governmental intervention in families' child rearing practices.[3]

In 1825, states enacted laws giving social-welfare agencies the right to remove neglected children from their parents and from the streets. These children were placed in almshouses, in orphanages and with other families. In 1835, the Humane Society founded the National Federation of Child Rescue agencies to investigate child maltreatment. In the late-1800's, private child protection agencies — modeled after existing animal protection organizations — developed to investigate reports of child maltreatment, present cases in court and advocate for child welfare legislation.[4]

In 1912, the federal Children's Bureau was established to manage federal child welfare efforts, including services related to child maltreatment. In 1958, amendments to the Social Security Act mandated that states fund child protection efforts.[5] In 1962, professional and media interest in child maltreatment was sparked by the publication of C. Henry Kempe and associates' "The battered child syndrome" in JAMA. By the mid-1960's, in response to public concern that resulted from this article, 49 U.S. states passed child-abuse reporting laws.[6] In 1974, these efforts by the states culminated in the passage of the federal "Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act" (P.L. 93-247) providing federal funding for wide-ranging federal and state child-maltreatment research and services.[7]

In the public eye[edit | edit source]

The CPS system has numerous detractors, including those who believe the government has no right to interfere with child-rearing[1] as well as those who believe the government fails to do enough.

Popular television accounts relating to CPS include:

References[edit | edit source]

See also[edit | edit source]

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. Pecora et al. (1992), p. 231.
  2. Ibid., pp. 230-1.
  3. Ibid., p. 230.
  4. Pecora et al. (1992), pp. 230-31; Petr (1998), p. 126.
  5. Laird & Michael (2006).
  6. Pecora et al. (1992), p. 232; Petr (1998), p. 126.
  7. Pecora et al. (1992), pp. 232-3; Petr (1998), pp. 126-7.

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

  • Laird, David and Jennifer Michael (2006). "Budgeting Child Welfare: How will millions cut from the federal budget affect the child welfare system?" Published in: Child Welfare League of America, Children's Voice, Vol. 15, No. 4 (July/August 2006). Available on-line at:
  • Pecora, Peter J., James K. Whittaker, Anthony N. Maluccio, with Richard P. Barth and Robert D. Plotnick (1992). The Child Welfare Challenge: Policy, Practice, and Research. NY:Aldine de Gruyter. ISBN 0-202-36082-2.
  • Petr, Christopher G. (1998). Social Work with Children and their Families: Pragmatic Foundations. NY:Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-510607-5.

External links[edit | edit source]

United States[edit | edit source]

Canada[edit | edit source]

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