Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Summary of Responses to Child Abuse and Neglect in the Home

The table below summarizes the responses to child abuse and neglect in the home, the mechanism by which they are intended to work, the conditions under which they ought to work best, and some factors you should consider before implementing a particular response. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem.

Response No. Response How It Works Works Best If... Considerations
General Considerations for an Effective Response Strategy
1 Reducing community risk factors for child abuse and neglect It reduces individual risk factors and enhances individual protective factors ...strategies target known risk factors for abuse, such as poverty and the availability of drugs and alcohol Changes in child maltreatment rates may not be readily apparent, and other factors may hinder the interventions' effectiveness
2 Educating the public about the problem of child abuse and neglect It increases professionals' and residents' willingness to report suspected abuse so that police and other agencies can intervene; it increases children's ability to set appropriate boundaries and to ask for help when needed ...police provide professionals and residents with specific information about how to make a report; agencies responsible for receiving reports are available 24 hours a day; teachers work safety concepts into everyday teaching; parents are involved Some people may continue to neglect their reporting responsibilities; some children may not perceive what is happening to them as “abuse” and will not ask for help
3 Clarifying mandatory childabuse reporting laws It increases the likelihood that mandated reporters will alert police and child protective services of suspected abuse, as appropriate ...laws clearly state which types of suspected abuse must be reported to which agency; police receive reports about only the subset of serious cases If laws are overly broad, police can be overwhelmed; if laws are overly narrow, cases suffer from a lack of useful police expertise; some individuals may continue to neglect their reporting responsibilities; it does not prevent maltreatment from occurring
4 Increasing line officers' awareness of suspicious injuries It increases the likelihood that police will detect intentional injuries ...line officers are provided with realworld scenarios and concrete examples Officers must have opportunities to apply the information they learned in training sessions; it does not prevent maltreatment from occurring
5 Creating police agency policy regarding child abuse and neglect It establishes professional standards and elevates the quality of police investigations ...the policy provides clear guidance for key tasks and decision points; managers, investigators, and line officers are involved in its development Officers must be equipped with the skills to carry out high-quality investigations; there must be sufficient personnel to respond to reports of suspected maltreatment; it does not address other agencies' responsibilities; it does not prevent maltreatment from occurring
6 Increasing the reliability of statements made by victims of child abuse and neglect It results in better information on which to base decisions about services and criminal justice responses; it holds interviewers responsible for the skill with which they conduct interviews ...interviewers have opportunities to apply the skills they learn in training; interviewers receive quality supervision; the course is broken down into several phases; specific protocols are used; those viewing videotaped statements receive training on how to interpret what they see and hear It may increase knowledge without affecting practice; those viewing videotaped statements may focus on less important details rather than the statement's substance
Specific Responses to Child Abuse and Neglect in the Home
7 Creating multidisciplinary teams to respond to child maltreatment allegations It focuses various professionals' unique skill sets on the problem; it reduces the number of interviews to which victims are subjected ...written protocols are sufficiently broad to cover a range of situations, yet specific enough to offer clear direction; strategies are developed to share information, promote teamwork, prevent burnout, and resolve conflict Team members may unwittingly interfere in others' efforts; focusing training on a set of police specialists may dilute the expertise available department wide
8 Conducting child fatality reviews It provides an opportunity to correct procedural problems or gaps in service delivery that could prevent future deaths ...multidisciplinary teams conduct the reviews; the types of cases to be reviewed are clearly delineated High turnover among members makes it difficult for the team to develop effective protocols; it does not prevent the original fatality
9 Enhancing cultural competence It allows police to develop improved rapport with families and leads to better- quality information on which to base decisions ...officers are willing to focus on the information needed for the investigation and to let inconsequential details pass; officers are honest about what information they must share with immigration agencies; officers accommodate the family's language preference; all documents are available in the family's native language It may be difficult to accommodate everyone in areas with diverse immigrant populations; it takes time to develop expertise; officers must commit extra time to developing rapport
10 Creating child advocacy centers It reduces the trauma victims suffer during the investigation ...a multidisciplinary team works in a child-friendly setting; waiting time for interviews and medical examinations is reduced; services are grounded in research on effective practices It requires resources to establish and maintain; professionals assigned to the centers may feel isolated from their peers; it does not undo the original incidence of maltreatment
11 Implementing home visitation programs Targets high-risk families to reduce the risks associated with child maltreatment ...services are initiated prenatally or at birth; families are identified using a standardized risk assessment; services are intensive and long-term; services support parent-child interactions; families are linked to other needed services; caseloads are limited High-intensity services are resource-intensive; caretakers may not apply the skills they have learned or take advantage of the services offered
12 Improving family support systems to reduce family stressors It targets the risk factors associated with child maltreatment ...the choice among services is customized to each family's constellation of risk factors Many communities do not have an abundance of parent-focused services; caretakers may not apply the skills they have learned or take advantage of the services offered
13 Offering confidential telephone helpline assistance to those who see themselves at risk of abusing a child It targets the risk factors associated with child maltreatment ...callers may remain anonymous; callers are offered follow-up counseling services Limitations on confidentiality must be carefully considered
14 Removing children from the home It eliminates the immediate risk of harm ...officers know the legal limits of their authority and make decisions in consultation with child protective services; parents are informed about what will occur; efforts are made to reduce victims' anxiety Removal from home may be traumatic to the victim; some jurisdictions do not have adequate facilities for emergency placement; some children will be transferred among multiple placements, which increases the trauma; it adds additional stress to a family already experiencing problems
15 Arresting and prosecuting child abusers It causes an immediate change in the environment; it creates an opportunity to plan a long-term rehabilitation program for the family; it provides specific deterrence to child abusers ...it is used as a last resort It does not address underlying risk factors; prosecution is difficult because maltreatment is hard to detect and little evidence is available; relying on the testimony of child victims is notoriously difficult
Responses with Limited Effectiveness
16 Transferring jurisdiction for all child abuse cases to law enforcement It works on the assumption that police will provide higher-quality investigations than child protective services can   Some research has shown no improvements in the efficiency of investigations or the promptness of service delivery; it does not reduce maltreatment rates; it does not increase the severity of criminal justice sanctions
17 Containing sex offenders using offender restrictions and community awareness It works on the assumption that knowledge of perpetrators' whereabouts will prevent future incidents, and that victims do not know their offenders   Research on the impact on recidivism rates is largely unsupportive; unforeseen consequences of these laws may actually increase risk factors for recidivism and make it more difficult for police to identify perpetrators' whereabouts