Ecological factors and screening in child protective services

Susan J. Wells*, Peter Lyons, Howard J. Doueck, C. Hendricks Brown, Judy Thomas

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


The locality in which a child is reported as maltreated is one of the most powerful predictors of whether that allegation will be investigated. This study examined the relationship between ecological factors and screening decisions made by child protective services (CPS) workers from 12 sites in 5 states. Of community sociodemographic characteristics, the number of families with children under age 18 was the strongest predictor of the rate of screening in a local CPS office. Rate of investigation was also positively related to a higher proportion of contacts alleging neglect and the allied community professionals having a positive relationship with CPS. When sociodemographic and reporting variables were combined, the proportion of neglect cases was the far stronger predictor. At the case level, when controlling for locality, worker beliefs that the role of CPS was a broad one and a worker's statements that resource availability was not a factor in the worker decision making process were both positively related to that worker's decision to investigate specific allegations of maltreatment or allegations of injury to a child. Although much research has focused on case-related factors in the screening decision, the results of this study suggest that factors from other levels of the decision ecology should not be ignored.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)981-997
Number of pages17
JournalChildren and Youth Services Review
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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