Family characteristics and caregiver risk factors at play for families chronically screened-in for neglect

Date Published: 

Logan-Greene, P., & Semanchin Jones, A. (2017). Predicting chronic neglect: Understanding risk and protective factors for CPS-involved families. Child & Family Social Work: 1-9.

Reviewed by: 
Mireille De La Sablonnière-Griffin

This study focuses on chronic neglect cases in child protection services (CPS). Two main objectives were pursued: 1) to identify risk and protective factors related to chronic neglect cases, in contrast to neglect cases that are not chronic; 2) to explore the predictive capacity of a commonly used (in the United States) risk assessment tools regarding chronic neglect. In this study, chronic neglect is defined as repeated (4 or more) screened-in reports of neglect in child protection services.

This study used two subsamples created from administrative records. The first subsample (not chronic neglect) consists of families with a first screened-in report of neglect during a two-year period (2009 and 2010), with no subsequent screened-in report of neglect up until the end of 2014 (n = 1644 families). The second subsample (chronic neglect) comprised families which, in addition to a first screened-in report of neglect in 2009 or 2010, experienced four or more additional screened-in reports of neglect before the end of 2014 (n = 430 families).

Regarding the first objective, none of the four protective factors identified through the risk assessment tool differed significantly between the not chronic and the chronic neglect group. However, several risk factors statistically distinguished the two subsamples. Families chronically screened-in for neglect had a younger primary female caregiver, a higher number of children, and a higher number of allegations in the initial report; these families were also more likely to include a child under the age of one and to have had a child in the care or custody of someone else; finally, these families had higher rates of domestic violence, mental health problems, and cognitive impairment. Given that the elements included in the risk assessment have been empirically identified as risk factors for child neglect and abuse more generally, these findings illustrate the important role they play in understanding families chronically screened-in for neglect.

As for the second objective, this study demonstrates a relatively low predictive capacity of the risk assessment tool for chronic neglect. The preliminary score generated by the risk assessment tool was able to distinguish chronic and not chronic neglect families (controlling for primary female caregiver’s age and number of children), correctly classifying 79.4% of children in the sample. However, the final risk rating (recategorizing the scores into low, medium, high or very high risk) did not predict chronic neglect. These findings suggest that risk assessment tools can be useful at distinguishing the most chronic group from the least chronic group, but are less efficient in capturing the more subtle nuances when predicting chronic neglect.

This study contributes to an emerging literature trying to identify early indicators of chronic neglect. Given the highly detrimental potential outcomes of chronic neglect, early detection is increasingly recognized as an important part of child protection services’ mandate. This study nonetheless highlights that the current tools used are in need of refinement, both in terms of addressing specific types of maltreatment, and in addressing the patterns of maltreatment over time.

Methodological notes: 

Data for these analyses were drawn from administrative records of “a large, diverse, Northeastern jurisdiction” not otherwise specified.  Note that while data regarding race and ethnicity was available, the patterns of missing data was related to the level of involvement with child protection and was therefore not used in the models (i.e. files of children in the not chronic neglect subsample were more likely to have missing data on race and ethnicity compared to children in the chronic neglect subsample).

The four protective factors assessed were: use of reliable and constructive assistance from relatives/friends, developmentally appropriate expectations regarding child, appropriately attending to child’s needs, and taking allegations seriously. The majority of the sample (over 95%) had a positive rating on all four protective factors, raising questions about whether the items were properly measured.