Much attention has been focused on the inadequacy of child protective services agencies in the United States. That attention includes a Los Angeles Times' 2009 series on flaws in local CPS operations titled "Innocents Betrayed." A new study confirms the difficulty of child protective services agencies nationwide in altering the fate of abused or neglected children.
Researchers used a national database to examine the outcomes of 595 children ages 4 to 8 who were considered at high risk for abuse or neglect. About one-quarter of the children had been the subject of a child protective services investigation for suspected child maltreatment. But when researchers examined the children at age 8, they found that children who were subjects of investigations fared no better than noninvestigated children in the study on such measures as social support, family functioning, poverty, maternal education and child behavior problems. In other words, being the subject of a CPS investigation did nothing to improve the lives of the children.
In fairness, the focus of a child protective services investigation is not larger issues such as poverty or lack of parental education. Instead, CPS targets immediate threats to safety. But, the authors wrote: "The lack of change in household characteristics known to be associated with repeat abuse suggests that CPS intervention represents a missed opportunity to improve outcomes for children at high risk for future maltreatment, medical problems and behavioral problems." Moreover, they said, it's not clear that the actions taken by child protective services to reduce an immediate threat do anything to reduce future threats of abuse and neglect.