Magazine article Policy & Practice

Child Abuse Investigations: Have a Healthy Suspicion of Multiple "Unsubstantiated" Findings

Magazine article Policy & Practice

Child Abuse Investigations: Have a Healthy Suspicion of Multiple "Unsubstantiated" Findings

Article excerpt

Following a child abuse/neglect investigation, a child protective services (CPS) investigator, usually in consultation with his or her supervisor, determines if the report should be substantiated or unsubstantiated. If the report is substantiated it means that the information gathered supports a finding of child abuse or neglect. If the report is unsubstantiated it means that the information gathered does not support a finding of child abuse or neglect. Each state has its own unique scheme governing the practical application of the term "unsubstantiated" or other similar term. The resultant legal sufficiency of this term is extraordinarily complex. An unsubstantiated finding does not necessarily mean abuse or neglect did not take place; it just means there were insufficient or inadequate facts to rule the allegation as "substantiated." Indeed, "many of the children in unsubstantiated cases are eventually the subjects of subsequent CPS referrals" (Child Welfare Information Gateway, Children's Bureau/ACYF, 2003, p. 1). (1)

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From a policy and legal perspective, what are the implications of multiple, consecutive "unsubstantiated" findings, especially when the reports precipitating the findings are from different sources? How do we weigh the credibility of those sources? If the allegations involve abuse in foster care, day care, or a residential treatment facility, at what point should children no longer be placed in that home or facility despite no concrete finding of substantiated maltreatment?

Let's take a brief look at two states' definitional schemes. Kentucky (922 KAR 1:330, Section 1(9) & (11)) defines "substantiated" as: (a) an admission of abuse, neglect, or dependency by the person responsible; (b) a judicial finding of child abuse, neglect, or dependency; or (c) a preponderance of evidence exists that abuse, neglect, or dependency was committed by the person alleged to be responsible. "Unsubstantiated" means there is insufficient evidence, indicators, or justification present for substantiation of abuse, neglect, or dependency.

In contrast, Maine (10-148, Chapter 201, V. G., L. & 0.) holds that "substantiated" means an administrative determination made by the Department of Health and Human Services that an individual or legal entity was the person responsible for a child who was subject to "abuse or neglect" where either (1) the abuse or neglect was of high severity or (2) the individual or legal entity poses a threat of harm to children for whom the individual or legal entity may become responsible through employment or volunteer activities. …

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