Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

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.

Stakeholders

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.

Schools:

  • 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 for them.

Mental health providers:

  • Abuse allegations may first be disclosed to counselors or psychologists, who will then contact child protective services or police for an immediate response.
  • 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 available locally.

Faith-based organizations:

  • 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 dynamics.

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 later on.

Incidents

  • How many suspected child abuse and neglect reports do police receive? How many do child protective services receive? To what extent do the agencies cross-report?
  • 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 cases reported?
  • 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, pregnancy, etc.?
  • Among neglect cases, what basic needs do caretakers neglect? How many involve food, clothing, shelter, supervision, education, medical treatment, etc.?
  • 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 cases?
  • How many referrals to child protective services are substantiated? For what types of maltreatment?

Victims

  • 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?

Offenders

  • 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 occur?
  • 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?

Locations/Times

  • 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 family's home?

Current Responses

  • 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 abuse? Neglect?
  • 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 neglect;
  • reduced number and severity of injuries caretakers inflict on children;
  • 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.