Reducing Underresponding

Improving System Response to Mandated Reporters

by Gail L. Zellman

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The child protective services (CPS) system in the United States is severely overburdened, and therefore CPS agencies cannot respond as they might like to many reports. This Note proposes three changes that could improve system functioning and reduce the frustration of those who are mandated by law to report child maltreatment. One reform involves information and training, which must emphasize that there are important reasons for reporting, even when CPS response is not possible. These reasons include the need to maintain scrutiny and to collect accurate data. A second reform involves formalizing the informal. Informal understandings that reports of minor abuse will not precipitate system response do not meet the system's need to collect accurate data, and rely too heavily on personal judgments and relationships. But if the informal process could be formalized, the system might be spared from having to investigate certain kinds of reports immediately. Knowledgeable reporters would not have to choose between complying with the reporting mandate and acting in what they perceive to be the child's best interests. A third reform worth pursuing is streamlining the reporting process.

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