Criminal investigations in child protective services cases: an empirical analysis

Child Maltreat. 2015 May;20(2):104-14. doi: 10.1177/1077559514562605. Epub 2014 Dec 17.


This study analyzed the frequency and correlates of criminal investigation of child maltreatment in cases investigated by child protective service (CPS), using national probability data from the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being. Criminal investigations were conducted in slightly more than 25% of cases. Communities varied substantially in percentage criminally investigated. Sexual abuse was the most frequent type of maltreatment criminally investigated followed by physical abuse. Logistic regression results indicated that criminal investigations were more likely when caseworkers perceived greater harm and more evidence; when CPS conducted an investigation rather than an assessment; when a parent or a legal guardian reported the maltreatment; and when cases were located in communities in which CPS and police had a memorandum of understanding (MOU) governing coordination. Most variation between communities in criminal investigation remained unexplained. The findings suggest the potential of MOUs for communities wanting to increase criminal investigation.

Keywords: child maltreatment; child protective services; criminal investigation; law enforcement; memorandum of understanding.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child Protective Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child Welfare / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cooperative Behavior
  • Empirical Research
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Law Enforcement*
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Residence Characteristics
  • United States / epidemiology