What does effectiveness mean?: A qualitative assessment of two child protection systems

Child Abuse Negl. 2019 Mar;89:1-6. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2018.12.014. Epub 2019 Jan 3.


Background: Child Protective Services (CPS) systems have not historically conducted system effectiveness research. More information is needed about the long-term outcomes of children and families served by the systems.

Objective: To investigate how workers within CPS systems in Colorado and the Netherlands measure and perceive the effectiveness of their CPS system.

Participants and setting: CPS administrators and workers in Colorado and the Netherlands from August 2015 through May 2016. At both sites, interviewees included front line employees with deep knowledge of daily mechanics and processes, as well as experts and thought leaders who possessed historical memory and perspective about their site's CPS system.

Methods: In-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 77 participants. In Colorado (n = 36), 8 participants were state experts and 28 held county-level roles. In the Netherlands (n = 41), 17 participants were national experts and 24 worked at Veilig Thuis agencies.

Results: Participants in both sites reported that they did not know if their system had empirical evidence to support its effectiveness, and had difficulty identifying how they would measure the effectiveness of their system.

Conclusions: Both systems lack the ability to collect data on the quality of their services and the longitudinal outcomes for the children and families they serve. Measures of good outcomes must be developed. Without longitudinal outcome data, CPS systems cannot assess the effectiveness of their practice. CPS systems might partner with the healthcare system, where the infrastructure and culture are already in place to look at quality and longitudinal outcomes.

Keywords: Child Protective Services; Outcomes; Qualitative; System effectiveness.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Abuse / prevention & control*
  • Child Protective Services / methods*
  • Colorado
  • Delivery of Health Care / methods
  • Family
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Netherlands
  • Program Evaluation