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Research Review

Reported Child Abuse Claims Often Difficult to Prove

Only one-quarter of all reported cases of child abuse are found to have sufficient evidence to take action, with higher-income children in rural areas more likely than their urban counterparts to have a report of child abuse substantiated, according to new research from the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire and presented in the brief “Understanding Child Abuse in Rural and Urban America: Risk Factors and Maltreatment Substantiation.”

According to the researchers, whether an incidence of child abuse is substantiated by Child Protective Services (CPS)—whether there is sufficient evidence to believe an act of abuse took place—often impacts subsequent decisions, such as whether a child or family receives counseling or other types of services, and whether the child will be removed from his or her home.

“Recent evidence finds that 61% of children with a substantiated report received services compared with 26% of children without a substantiated report. Further, in 35 states, the decision to expunge a record of a given report is based, at least in part, on substantiation status or similar criteria. This practice is important as courts often use previous reports to assess the risk of current harm to a child,” the researchers said.

The key research findings are as follows:

• Approximately one-fourth of all cases investigated by CPS are substantiated.

• Across America, 25% of supervisory neglect cases, 24% of sexual abuse cases, and 22% of physical neglect are substantiated.

• Caregivers’ risk factors, including drug and alcohol abuse, mental health problems, and a recent arrest, increase the likelihood that a child maltreatment report is substantiated. Nearly one-half of caregivers with three or more risk factors have a substantiated report compared with an estimated 22% with only one or two risks and 11% of caregivers with no risk factors.

• Important differences emerge between rural and urban America:

- Higher-income children (children in families with incomes greater than 200% of the federal poverty level) in rural areas are significantly more likely to have a report substantiated than those in urban places.

- Older children in rural places are more likely to have a report substantiated (35%) than those in urban areas (23%).

- Caregivers in rural areas with active domestic violence or with cognitive impairments are more likely to have a case substantiated than similar urban caregivers.

— Source: University of New Hampshire