Understanding Your Local Problem
The information provided above is only a generalized
description of child abuse and neglect in the home. You must combine the basic
facts with a more specific understanding of your local problem. Carefully analyzing
your local problem will help you develop a more effective response strategy.
Anyone addressing this problem should be aware of the many
resources available, particularly in fields other than law enforcement. In
addition to criminal justice agencies, the following groups have an interest in
the child maltreatment problem, and you should consider them for the
contribution they might make to gathering information about the problem and
responding to it:
Child protective services:
- Local child protective services often share the statutory
responsibility for responding to child abuse with police agencies.
- Child protective services workers have significant expertise in
victimology, interviews with young children, and typical reactions of abusing
and nonabusing parents.
- Teachers, guidance counselors, and administrators have daily
contact with children and are likely to note behavioral changes that could
indicate abuse at home.
- Schools may implement responses targeting potential abuse victims.
Health care providers:
- Some health care providers are injury experts and may be able to
offer an opinion on whether injuries are consistent with parents' explanations
Mental health providers:
- Abuse allegations may first be disclosed to counselors or
psychologists, who will then contact child protective services or police for an
- Mental health professionals will implement responses designed to
reduce individual risk factors present for abusive caretakers.
Social services agencies:
- Families who neglect children's basic needs may need access to a
range of social services to support the family structure. Representatives of
these agencies can contribute concrete resources to family safety plans.
Foster-care licensing agencies:
- When children are in immediate danger, you may need to remove
them from the home and temporarily place them in foster care. Representatives
of licensing agencies can ensure that sufficient emergency resources are
- Churches, synagogues, and other faith-based institutions may work
with parents to reduce individual risk factors.
- These groups may implement responses targeting potential abuse victims.
Employers and business associations:
- Family stress related to employment demands can increase the risk
of abuse and neglect. Local employers may be able to develop a range of support
services designed to reduce these risks.
Daycare providers and babysitters:
- These people often have unique access to and insight about family
Asking the Right Questions
The following are some critical questions you should ask in
analyzing your particular problem of child abuse and neglect in the home, even
if the answers are not always readily available. Your answers to these and
other questions will help you choose the most appropriate set of responses
- How many suspected child abuse and neglect reports do police receive?
How many do child protective services receive? To what extent do the agencies
- How often do police encounter and identify suspected child abuse
or neglect during the course of their routine duties? On what types of calls or
during what types of activities do suspicions arise?
- How often does a single suspected child abuse and neglect report
involve multiple children? How many total children are involved across all
- What proportion are reports of physical abuse? Sexual abuse?
Neglect? To what extent do these types of maltreatment co-occur?
- Among physical abuse cases, what types of injuries do victims
sustain? How many incidents involve bruises, lacerations, burns, broken bones,
head trauma, death, etc.?
- Among sexual abuse cases, what types of injuries do victims
sustain? How many involve physical injuries, sexually transmitted disease,
- Among neglect cases, what basic needs do caretakers neglect? How
many involve food, clothing, shelter, supervision, education, medical
- Who reports incidents to police? To child protective services? Does
the reporting source vary across the types of maltreatment?
- What groups of mandated reporters appear to be underrepresented?
What reasons do they give for failing to report suspected abuse?
- What proportion of reports do child protective services accept
for assessment or investigation? What proportion do police investigate? Do they
conduct any of these investigations jointly?
- What proportion of reported families have previous referrals to
police or child protective services? What actions were taken in the original
- How many referrals to child protective services are
substantiated? For what types of maltreatment?
- What is the average age of physical abuse victims? At what
victims' ages do referrals for physical abuse tend to cluster?
- What is the proportion of boys versus girls among physical abuse
victims? What is the racial and ethnic composition of thesee victims?
- What is the average age of sexual abuse victims? At what victims'
ages do referrals for sexual abuse tend to cluster?
- What is the proportion of boys versus girls among sexual abuse
victims? What is the racial and ethnic composition of these victims?
- What is the average age of neglect victims? At what victims' ages
do referrals for neglect tend to cluster?
- What is the proportion of boys versus girls among neglect
victims? What is the racial and ethnic composition of these victimst?
- What proportion of maltreatment victims are developmentally,
cognitively, or physically disabled?
- What is the average age of physical abusers? What is their racial
and ethnic composition? What proportion are male versus female?
- What is the relationship of the physical abuser to the victim?
- For how long does the physical abuse occur? What types of
instruments do abusers use to inflict injury? In what situations does the abuse
- What proportion of perpetrators have substance abuse problems?
What proportion have diagnosed mental health conditions? What proportion have
chronic health problems?
- What are the key sources of stress among physical abusers? Unemployment?
Single parenting? Poverty? Domestic violence?
- What is the average age of sexual abusers? What is their racial
and ethnic composition? What proportion are male versus female?
- What is the relationship of the sexual abuser to the victim?
- How does the sexual abuse begin? How does the perpetrator "groom"
the victim? When and why does the sexual abuse stop?
- If a nonoffending caretaker is present, is he or she aware that
abuse is occurring?
- What is the average age of those alleged to have neglected their
children? What is the perpetrators' racial and ethnic composition? What
proportion are male versus female?
- What are the key sources of stress among those alleged to have
neglected their children? What proportion are unemployed? Single parents?
Living in poverty?
- Does the neglectful caretaker have a substance abuse problem? Is
he or she involved in crime?
- How many people live in the households in which children are
being neglected? Of what ages? How stable is the occupancy?
- Do reports of suspected child abuse and neglect cluster in a
specific geographic area? What are this area's characteristics?
- Are there any seasonal patterns identified in the reports of
suspected child abuse and neglect?
- On what days of the week and at what times of the day do
referrals requiring an immediate police response tend to occur?
- What proportion of referrals identify a location outside of the
- Is there an organized partnership among stakeholders in your
jurisdiction? What professions are included? Are any key agencies missing?
- Is there any written agreement about how the group will operate? Do
they follow it?
- What problems has this partnership experienced in adequately
responding to child abuse and neglect?
- How often must police respond to the scene of reported child
abuse or neglect without support from a child protective services worker? Under
what conditions does this occur?
- Why do police accompany child protective services workers (e.g.,
to ensure access to the location or possible victims, to act as a stabilizing
presence, or to protect workers in a dangerous neighborhood)?
- How many officers have special expertise in child abuse and
neglect? What sort of training does the average line officer receive? What sort
of training do specialists receive?
- How often do police remove children from the home? What is the
basis for this decision?
- What services are provided to victims of physical abuse? Sexual
- What services are provided to perpetrators of physical abuse?
Sexual abuse? Neglect?
- How often do police arrest suspected perpetrators? How often do
prosecutors prosecute suspected perpetrators? In what situations do prosecutors
decide not to go forward with prosecution?
- What sorts of penalties do courts impose on those convicted of
child abuse and neglect?
- What other responses have been implemented to address the problem
of child abuse and neglect? Which have been effective? Which have not, and why?
Measuring Your Effectiveness
Measurement allows you to determine to what degree your
efforts have succeeded, and suggests how you might modify your responses if
they are not producing the intended results. You should take measures of your
problem before you implement responses, to determine how serious the
problem is, and after you implement them, to determine whether they have
been effective. You should take all measures in both the target area and the
surrounding area. For more detailed guidance on measuring effectiveness, see
the Problem-Solving Tools guide, Assessing Responses to Problems: An
Introductory Guide for Police Problem-Solvers.
The following are potentially useful measures of the
effectiveness of responses to child abuse and neglect in the home:
- reduced number of suspected child abuse and neglect reports (however,
if reporting protocols are not fully intact, you may initially experience an
increase in the number of reported cases);
- reduced number of children who are revictimized, even after
contact with police and child protective services;
- shorter durations of abuse (in other words, police and child
protective services become aware of and intervene in suspected abuse cases sooner);
- reduced number of child fatalities caused by child abuse and
- reduced number and severity of injuries caretakers inflict on
- reduced number of children whose caretakers are not fulfilling
their basic needs;
- reduced number of children for whom removal from the home is
required to protect their safety; and
- increased number of caregivers who proactively seek parenting
support and other services to alleviate family stress.