The problem of child abuse has become increasingly evident in North America and Western Europe. Between 1980 and 1993, for example, the number of children reported one or more times to the public authorities for maltreatment more than doubled from 1.1 to 2.3 million cases in the United States ( U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1995); child abuse reports to confidential doctors climbed from 3,179 to 13,220 in the Netherlands between 1983 and 1993 ( Roelofs and Baartman, chapter 8), in Belgium the number of reports increased by 70% between 1986 and 1992 ( Marneffe and Broos, chapter 7), and in Quebec, Canada, the number of reports jumped by 100% from 1982 to 1989 ( Swift, chapter 2). This increase in reports has produced acute strains on child welfare service systems and has raised compelling questions about how best to detect and respond to child abuse ( Besharov, 1990a, 1990b; Giovannoni and Meezan, 1995; Pelton, 1991).
The most extreme pressures are conspicuous in the United States, where an enormous surge in the number of child abuse reports has transformed the system of child welfare services; here, an increasing amount of resources are devoted to investigation of the problem, steadily diminishing the resources left to provide services to children and families at risk. As Kamerman and Kahn ( 1990) observe: "Depending on the terms used public social service administrators state either that 'Child protection is child welfare,' or that 'The increased demand for child protection has driven out all other child welfare services'" (p. 9).
In response to this development, a vigorous debate has emerged in the United States as some experts claim that too many reports and investigations are being made, while others charge that many cases of abuse go unreported. Those who view the net as being cast too wide point to the fact that most child abuse reports are unfounded; in 1993, for example, 38% of the child abuse reports investigated were substantiated or indicated (i.e., not fully confirmed, but sufficient reason to suspect maltreatment) ( U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1995). "The current flood of unfounded reports," Besharov ( 1987) declares, "is overwhelming the limited resources of child protective agencies" (p. 7). Not only are most allegations of child abuse unsubstantiated, but the vast majority consist of cases that involve neither serious harm nor immediate threat of physical injury to the child. Lindsey ( 1994) estimates that 2% of child abuse reports involve cases of severe physical child abuse.
From this perspective much of the problem is attributed to the expansion