Recidivism in Child Protective Services

Published In: Children and Youth Services Review, v. 19, no. 3, 1997, p. 139-161

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 1997

by Moira Inkelas, Neal Halfon

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Uses data from a survey conducted by the California Department of Social Services to examine the extent of recidivism in child protective case openings in California and the factors associated with it. These data indicate that recidivism is common and growing over time in California's child protective system. Nearly half of the cases investigated in 1993 by the system's Emergency Response component had previous case openings, a 55 percent increase since 1985. Moreover, the average number of previous case openings was higher among discharged cases in 1993 than in 1985. Nearly two-thirds of these cases were discharged after the assessment process, even though maltreatment was substantiated in nearly half of the cases in which discharge occurred, suggesting that recidivism is not a function of reports of unfounded abuse. This discharge generally occurred within 21 days, with few children or their families receiving needed medical or social services or referral to other services. The high level of recidivism may indicate that potentially vulnerable children are being returned to high-risk environments without sufficient services to reduce risk, although it is also possible that a growing number or children hover at a risk level that is just above the threshold for intervention. In either event, better coordination of crisis-oriented services with other ongoing assistance programs and better in-depth assessments of the risks and health conditions of children entering the child welfare system are needed.

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