22, No. 2
Decision Making and Documentation at CPS Intake
Child protective services intake is a key part of how we protect children. It's where we begin collecting information and making initial decisions about child safety. Documentation begun at intake continues throughout the family's involvement with the agency and can play a critical role in the court process.
During federal fiscal year 2015, CPS agencies in the U.S. received an estimated 4 million referrals. Among the 44 states that reported both screened-in and screened-out referrals, 58.2% of referrals were screened in and 41.8% were screened out. The performance of individual states varied. For example, 15 states screened in more than the national percentage, with screen-in rates ranging from 60.7% to 98.4% (USDHHS, 2017). This variation is due in part to differences in state policies.
In 2015 in North Carolina, referrals were somewhat more likely to be screened in than the national average. According to the NC Division of Social Services Child Welfare Workforce Data Book there were 136,213 child maltreatment referrals in 2015. Of these, 88,996, or 65.3%, were screened in (NC DSS, 2017a).
Since 65.3% is a statewide average, the screen-in rate was above or below this in most counties. Rates outside the norm (above or below) should cause counties to stop and ask deeper questions to be sure they understand the reason for their performance. (Counties provide this data quarterly to the Division and they have their own performance available to them.)
Intake: Monitoring Team Insights
In 2016 the Division's Monitors reviewed approximately 1,800 referrals for alleged child maltreatment. They found 93% of referrals that were screened in were done so according to policy (NC DSS, 2017b).
The picture was slightly different for screen-outs. Of these, 82% were screened according to policy. Of the records that included a written justification for the screen-out decision, a third of the time the justification was insufficient. Often it merely stated the allegation did not meet the statutory definition of abuse/neglect or dependency and did not include details unique to the referral (NC DSS, 2017b).
Initiation: CFSR Findings
When they looked at initiation, Monitors also found that just 75% of the screened-in reports they reviewed in 2016 were initiated according to policy. Often the agency did not conduct face-to-face interviews with all children living in the home within the required timeframe. When they failed to see and interview children in timeframe, agencies documented their diligent efforts to do so only 33% of the time (NC DSS, 2017b).
Know and follow policy. The findings we've discussed also suggest some agencies do not always follow policy. NC policy requires the use of the Structured Intake Form (DSS-1402) and offers extensive guidance and resources, including decision trees for screening various types of child maltreatment, domestic violence, human trafficking, and more.
CPS assessment policy calls for agencies to interview (not just see) all children living in the home at initiation so the agency can adequately assess the allegations and the safety and well-being of the children.
Support for You and Your Agency
The NC Division of Social Services wants to support you and your agency with this challenging task. As part of this support, the Division offers the courses Intake in Child Welfare Services and CPS Assessments at locations throughout the state on an ongoing basis. In addition, the Division offered a webinar about CPS intake and initiation in February 2017. You can register for these courses and watch a recording of this webinar by visiting the main page of the Division's online learning portal for child welfare professionals, ncswLearn.org.