Improved Hiring for Child Protective Investigators

By Reaume, Sherri | Law & Order, February 2009 | Go to article overview

Improved Hiring for Child Protective Investigators


Reaume, Sherri, Law & Order


A large body of research articles exists that addresses child physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and neglect. The same goes for the investigation of pre-employment psychological evaluations for law enforcement and correctional officers. To date, however, no studies from the psychology literature have focused on using preemployment psychological evaluations to assess psychological characteristics of child protective investigative applicants.

Many major law enforcement agencies often have staff specifically assigned to investigate crimes against children. To increase accountability, separation of the investigative and protective services functions was initiated to isolate the facilitative protective functions with the more adversarial functions of the investigative unit being handled by law enforcement agencies.

By separating the two functions, it was intended that the investigative unit, which is provided by police department and sheriff's offices, would be able to remain more objective and true to its focus and mission. While law enforcement officers primarily address enforcement aspects pertaining to the alleged crime, child protective investigators are customarily delegated the responsibility for interviewing, investigating, and managing abuse / neglect cases.

A career in child welfare is a demanding and difficult vocational path. A child protective investigator must approach child maltreatment as both social (from the social worker's point of view) and criminal (from the law enforcement point of view) in nature. This conflict is inherent in the role, which includes protecting the children and attempting to maintain the family while, at the same time, helping law enforcement investigate and prosecute the caregivers for criminal acts. Burnout and dissatisfaction are major factors of high turnover for this predominately female career choice.

Turnover rates range from 30% to 60% for child protective investigators in a typical year; the average duration of employment is less than two years. This is especially detrimental considering child protective investigators require two years of training and experience to become efficient at their jobs.

The purpose of this article is to examine the personality characteristics of the child protective investigators who continue to perform their job duties for a minimum of two years. These findings will help to identify the personality dimensions best suited for child protective investigators, which will lead to a reduction in turnover. It is crucial that the sources and nature of the stress associated with discharging duties as child protective investigator are identified, as well as the relationship between stress and personality traits.

Pre-employment Selection Testing

Use of psychological testing to assess criminal justice system applicants is nearing its centennial. Traditionally, psychological testing instruments have been used to identify the risk for untoward behavior or to screen out applicants. Although researchers have been attempting to develop tests to "select in" the best applicants, they have had limited success. The process of "selecting in" the best applicants usually involves identifying normal, non-pathological personality traits, which are conducive to efficient functioning in the type of employment being sought.

A review of the literature (Academic Search Premier, MEDLINE, PsycARTICLES and PsycINFO) yielded no published studies attempting to identify psychological traits or characteristics (neither normal nor pathological) of child protective investigators. This scarcity of research exists despite the well-documented literature highlighting the stress associated with discharging duties as a child protective investigator.

The research has shown that child welfare investigators exhibit more depersonalization, less worker comfort, more role ambiguity and conflict, and more value conflict than workers in other human service settings. …

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