New Directions in Child Abuse and Neglect Research

New Directions in Child Abuse and Neglect ResearchIt has been 20 years since the National Research Council (NRC) issued the report, Understanding Child Abuse and Neglect.

It now has been updated. A four-page overview can be seen at this link

You can browse the entire  375 -page prepublication pdf at this link.

“In the first major study of child abuse and neglect in 20 years, researchers with the National Academy of Sciences recently reported that the damaging consequences of abuse can not only reshape a child’s brain but also last a lifetime.

If untreated, the effects of child abuse and neglect, the researchers found, can profoundly influence victims’ physical and mental health, their ability to control emotions and impulses, their achievement in school, and the relationships they form as children and as adults.

The researchers recommended an “immediate, coordinated” national strategy to better understand, treat and prevent child abuse and neglect, noting that each year, abuse and neglect costs an estimated $80 billion in the direct costs of hospitalization, law enforcement and child welfare and the indirect costs of special education, juvenile and adult criminal justice, adult homelessness, and lost work productivity.

In Utah, according to a 2008 report from Prevent Child Abuse America, the annual cost for child abuse is $2.8 million, taking into account similar factors, such as hospitalization and law enforcement.

Executive Director of Prevent Child Abuse Utah Trina Taylor agrees with the report’s finding of the long-term damage that follows child abuse and the related costs.

“When kids are abused, we see more addiction problems and more mental issues. Even the physical effects are devastating, such as heart conditions,” she said.

Taylor said Utah is in line with the national rates of child abuse and may even have more because the state has more children. Every 38 minutes a child is abused, she said.

“Child abuse and neglect is a serious public health problem, which requires immediate, urgent attention,” said Anne Peter­sen, a professor at the Center for Human Growth and Development at the University of Michigan who chaired the research committee for the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council of the National Academies. “The consequences can last into adulthood, with significant costs to the individual, to families and to society.”

The report, produced at the request of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, found that while rates of physical and sexual child abuse have declined in the past 20 years, rates of emotional and psychological abuse, the kind that can produce the most serious long-lasting ­effects, have increased. Rates of neglect have held fairly steady. Researchers said they do not know why.

“That’s why we make that a research priority in our recommendations,” said Lucy Berliner, a professor at the University of Washington’s School of Social Work and a committee member. “We need to understand better the reasons behind these trends.”

Berliner said the committee is proposing a coordinated strategy, because it found so much variation among states, in how abuse and neglect are defined and how local officials are trained to respond to it. “Some states had dramatic, 100 percent increases in cases of neglect,” she said. “And others had 100 percent decreases. That speaks to the complexity of the problem.”

Taylor said the best way to curb the effects of child abuse is to prevent it all together. Her organization works with families that are in a high-risk category of child abuse, even getting involved before the child is born. The group provides support and education for parents to keep the risk minimum and also educate kids to identify abuse and to seek out help.

Every year, child-protection agencies receive 3 million referrals for child abuse and neglect involving about 6 million children, the report found, though with unreported instances, the actual number is probably much higher, the researchers said. And, the report noted, about 80 percent of the children in investigated abuse and neglect cases are not removed from the home.

Child victims are equally likely to be male or female, the report found. The majority are younger than 5. About 80 percent of the perpetrators are parents, the vast majority biological parents. More than half of the perpetrators are female.

Angela Diaz, director of the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center and another committee member, said the report found three risk factors that increased the likelihood of child abuse: parental depression, parental substance abuse and whether the parents had been abused or neglected as children.

The researchers did not find an association between rates of abuse and times of economic hardship, such as the recent Great Recession.

“Researchers found relationships that were hard to make sense of: increases in child abuse in relationship to mortgage foreclosure but not to unemployment rates,” Berliner said. “It’s not all that straightforward. After welfare reform in the 1990s, there was a concern that as people lost their benefits, that would cause a spike in child-abuse referrals. Instead, that was a period of the greatest reduction in child-abuse referrals.”

While so much remains a mystery about the causes of abuse, and why some children respond to treatment and recover and others do not, the researchers said advances in brain science in the past 20 years show just how devastating and long-lasting the effects of abuse can be on the structure and the function of the brain.

Research has found that abuse and neglect can influence the amygdala, the part of the brain that regulates emotions, particularly fear and anxiety. Abuse also has been shown to change how the prefrontal cortex functions, the part of the brain responsible for thinking, planning, reasoning and decision making, which can lead to behavioral and academic problems.

But there is hope, researchers said.

“The effects seen on abused children’s brain and behavioral development are not static,” said committee member Mary Dozier, chairman of child development at the University of Delaware. “If we can intervene and change a child’s environment, we actually see plasticity in the brain. So, we see negative changes when a child is abused, but we also see positive brain changes when the abuse ends and they are more supported. Interventions can be very effective.””


A version of this column originally appeared in

Audit: W.Va. fails to address child abuse quickly

cps-gifCHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The agency charged with protecting West Virginia's children from abuse and neglect suffers from high staff turnover, consistently fails to do timely investigations and appears unwilling to fix its many shortcomings, according to a legislative audit.

Child Protective Services is part of the Department of Health and Human Resources' Bureau for Children and Families. The audit presented to lawmakers in Charleston says the bureau lacks a sense of urgency in recruiting, building and retaining a workforce capable of timely investigations.

While it has been aware of and studied the turnover problem for six years, the audit concludes, the bureau has done nothing to change the situation.

The Dominion Post ( says interim bureau commissioner Susan Hage told lawmakers that she is taking the report seriously and committed to change. She also acknowledged the bureau should be farther along in addressing 14 recommendations.

But state Sen. Donald Cookman, a Hampshire County Democrat and retired circuit court judge, called the situations laid out in the audit "appalling."

While state law requires CPS workers to respond to abuse and neglect reports within 14 days — and within 72 hours in cases of imminent danger — the audit found workers met that standard less than half the time.

In 2011, it said, only 48 percent of the cases were handled promptly.

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Social workers say releasing full details of child-abuse deaths would harm families

dcf64[1]FRANKFORT — Child-protection workers told a Franklin Circuit Court judge Tuesday they feared people would not report child abuse and children would be psychologically scarred if uncensored social-worker case files were released to the public.

Angela Taylor, a 19-year social work veteran, testified Tuesday about documents regarding the August 2009 death of Gaige Pyles, a 7-month-old Kenton County boy whose father was convicted in his death. Gaige had several half-siblings who may not know all of the details of his death, Taylor said.

"I am worried about them reading about this case in the news," Taylor said.

Taylor was one of a half dozen state social workers who testified Tuesday during a multi-day hearing about what information can be redacted from the state's files on children who were killed or nearly killed as a result of abuse and neglect.

The Lexington Herald-Leader and The Courier-Journal of Louisville have been in a three-year legal fight with the state over what can be released when a child has been killed or critically injured as a result of abuse and neglect.

Judge Phillip Shepherd has previously ruled that child-protection records are closed, with the sole exception of child deaths and near deaths. In those cases, Shepherd ruled that the public has an overriding interest in knowing how the state performed its job of protecting vulnerable children.

He said information removed from the files should be limited to names of child victims who are hurt but don't die, the names of private citizens who report suspected abuse, the names of minor siblings of victims and the names of minor perpetrators.

However, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services redacted far more information from the 140 case files sought by the newspapers, including the names of every adult interviewed by the cabinet, all people who reported abuse, the names of parents who had been charged or convicted of abuse, and addresses of their own offices.

Lawyers for the media on Tuesday questioned why the cabinet had removed critical information from Gaige's file when some of the information that was redacted has been publicly released elsewhere.

Some Child Welfare Cases Not Being Investigated In Riverside County, Grand Jury Finds

babyRiverside County child welfare workers are not adequately investigating some abuse and neglect cases because they're often swamped, need more training and lack effective procedural guidelines, according to a county grand jury report to be reviewed by the Board of Supervisors next week.

The 19-member grand jury submitted a nine-page analysis of Riverside County Child Protective Services' operations that criticized how the agency and its personnel conduct some investigations.

CPS, which is a component of the Department of Public Social Services, is tasked with removing children from homes where they're exposed to danger, as well as placing abused and neglected children in foster homes and aiding in the adoption process.

The grand jury report, slated for review during Tuesday's board meeting, evaluated CPS based on interviews with employees and the scrutiny of internal documents and policies.

According to the grand jury, the last time CPS's organizational structure and operations underwent thorough vetting was in 1995.

"Since that time, the county's population has grown to over 2.2 million, and the prevalence of abuse and neglect has significantly increased," the report stated.

The grand jury relied on data from 2011 to get an overview of CPS activity. Figures showed 44,737 calls were fielded regarding children potentially at risk.

"Of those, 82 percent were investigated and 21 percent of those were found to be substantiated," according to the report. "Nine percent resulted in an open case, with 6 percent -- 2,438 -- of the children being removed from the home and taken into protective custody."

Just under 4,000 children are entrusted to the care of CPS personnel.

The grand jury found flaws in the criteria used by CPS investigators to determine how much potential danger a child may face in a home.

According to the jurors, the basic document on which case workers rely to make their findings -- the California Family Risk Assessment Form -- "does not place enough value on 'neglect factors."'

The grand jury reviewed closed cases and determined that conditions apparently ignored or overlooked by investigators included a history of substance abuse or domestic violence by one of more occupants of a household, ongoing inadequate supervision of children and obvious instances of children performing poorly in school without any signs of improving academically over time.

Jurors said that several CPS employees admitted under oath that they did not routinely consider a parent or guardian's "erratic behavior," nor whether law enforcement had been called to a home multiple times or whether a child was living in sanitary or crowded conditions in making a determination to keep a case open or close it.

"Testimony revealed that not all social workers ... investigate the medical, psychological or school records of children with ongoing neglect and abuse complaints," according to the report.

The jurors noted that CPS workers sometimes do not have ready access to law enforcement records, further hampering efforts to complete an investigation.

Social workers are also faced with daunting caseloads that prevent them from devoting the time they would like to each investigation, according to the grand jury. Workers testified to having 40 open cases at one time and having between seven and 14 reports to write each month.

According to the grand jury, some CPS workers revealed they were not well-versed in the agency's complaint process or how to properly assist individuals attempting to make a complaint. Jurors cited this as an example of deficient training.

The grand jury recommended that the county take the following corrective steps:

-- Develop a new mandatory checklist for CPS workers to follow that requires them to consider all potential risk factors "that affect the long- term health, growth and development of children";

-- Require CPS workers to review all "referral alerts" connected with a case, such as calls from concerned neighbors about a child's safety;

-- Make certain that any case assessment digs into the criminal history of all members of a household;

-- Review all law enforcement and mental health contacts a parent or guardian of a child has had, as well as academic and health information related to the child;

-- Cut social workers' caseloads;

-- Ensure that all personnel have a full understanding of the Children's Services Handbook and can confidently advise parties of how the complaint process works; and

-- Mandate that all CPS workers complete their nine-week "core induction training" before going into the field and, preferably, be paired with experienced social workers for mentorship purposes. --City News Service 

A version of this column originally appeared in


RIVERSIDE COUNTY: Grand jury criticizes Child Protective Services

10009461_R_CHILDREN_0709[1]Investigators don’t properly consider past history, such as parents’ criminal records, when looking into allegations of child abuse and neglect in Riverside County, according to a grand jury report.

The report released last week also found heavy caseloads for investigators in the Child Protective Services unit of the county Department of Social Services. In addition, the jury found that families aren’t properly told how to file a complaint and that some social workers lack required training.

In an email, county spokesman Ray Smith wrote: “Riverside County will thoroughly review the findings and recommendations and will respond to the report after that review has been completed.”

“A written response will then go to the Board of Supervisors and then be forwarded to the grand jury within the time frame specified by law.”

The grand jury consists of 19 county residents who spend a year looking into the inner workings of local public agencies. Their findings are released every summer.

Child Protective Services, commonly known as CPS, has 90 to 100 investigators and an overall staff of about 450, according to the grand jury’s report. In 2011, the agency received almost 45,000 phone calls alleging child abuse or neglect.

Of those, 82 percent were investigated and 21 percent were found to be substantiated. Almost 4,000 children are under CPS supervision.

In its report, the grand jury found that when investigating complaints, social workers “do not consider all current and prior history,” including past instances in a home of substance abuse, unsafe conditions and poor school attendance by children.

“Sworn testimony revealed that (CPS) has not diligently considered all the law enforcement calls to the homes where dependent children reside, which limits their ability to access all factors related to the children’s safety,” the report read, adding that social workers have limited access to law enforcement records.

“Testimony revealed not all social workers investigate fully into the criminal history of adults living in the home, nor do they investigate the medical, psychological, or school records of children with ongoing neglect and abuse complaints,” the grand jury found.

Social workers said “they are overloaded with cases and cannot properly evaluate the cases assigned to them,” the report read. Some said they had 40 cases and were “overloaded” with paperwork, including seven to 14 reports a month and court reports that take, on average, 6 hours per report to write, the report added.

Not all social workers are aware of or understand the complaint process and some fail to tell families about it, the report read. Social workers are supposed to get nine weeks of “core induction training” before tackling cases, but that doesn’t always happen, the report added.

It’s not the first time a grand jury has looked into CPS. In 2000, a grand jury report criticized the agency for being disorganized and allowing employees in different bureaus to run “fiefdoms” with no consistent procedures.

And after 11 children died, apparently at the hands of their parents, during a five-month span of 1994, the county requested a review of CPS by the Child Welfare League of America.

In 1996, the league concluded that the agency’s shortfalls created a “dangerous environment for both children and social workers.” A follow-up review in 2001 found improvement, but concluded children were still at risk and suggested improvements such as more training and support of social workers by managers.

In the latest report, the grand jury recommends CPS develop procedures to get more information from law enforcement authorities and other sources.

“This will provide information to caseworkers of law enforcement activity at the home address of dependent children and other pertinent information regarding school attendance and/or medical information,” the report read.

CPS also needs to evaluate workers’ caseloads, do more to inform families of the complaint process and establish a plan for veteran social workers to mentor their less-experienced peers, the jury recommended.


A version of this column originally appeared in