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.ResponseHow It WorksWorks Best If...Considerations
General Considerations for an Effective Response Strategy
1Reducing community risk factors for child abuse and neglectIt 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 alcoholChanges in child maltreatment rates may not be readily apparent, and other factors may hinder the interventions' effectiveness
2Educating the public about the problem of child abuse and neglectIt 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 involvedSome 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
3Clarifying mandatory child-abuse reporting lawsIt 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 casesIf 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
4Increasing line officers' awareness of suspicious injuriesIt increases the likelihood that police will detect intentional injuries...line officers are provided with realworld scenarios and concrete examplesOfficers must have opportunities to apply the information they learned in training sessions; it does not prevent maltreatment from occurring
5Creating police agency policy regarding child abuse and neglectIt 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 developmentOfficers 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
6Increasing the reliability of statements made by victims of child abuse and neglectIt 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 hearIt 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
7Creating multidisciplinary teams to respond to child maltreatment allegationsIt 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 conflictTeam members may unwittingly interfere in others' efforts; focusing training on a set of police specialists may dilute the expertise available department wide
8Conducting child fatality reviewsIt 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 delineatedHigh turnover among members makes it difficult for the team to develop effective protocols; it does not prevent the original fatality
9Enhancing cultural competenceIt 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 languageIt 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
10Creating child advocacy centersIt 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 practicesIt 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
11Implementing home visitation programsTargets 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 limitedHigh-intensity services are resource-intensive; caretakers may not apply the skills they have learned or take advantage of the services offered
12Improving family support systems to reduce family stressorsIt targets the risk factors associated with child maltreatment...the choice among services is customized to each family's constellation of risk factorsMany 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
13Offering confidential telephone helpline assistance to those who see themselves at risk of abusing a childIt targets the risk factors associated with child maltreatment...callers may remain anonymous; callers are offered follow-up counseling servicesLimitations on confidentiality must be carefully considered
14Removing children from the homeIt 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' anxietyRemoval 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
15Arresting and prosecuting child abusersIt 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 resortIt 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
16Transferring jurisdiction for all child abuse cases to law enforcementIt works on the assumption that police will provide higher-quality investigations than child protective services canSome 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
17Containing sex offenders using offender restrictions and community awarenessIt works on the assumption that knowledge of perpetrators' whereabouts will prevent future incidents, and that victims do not know their offendersResearch 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