While the Child Protective Services program was founded with the best intentions of keeping children safe from abuse and neglect, it is not a perfect system. Unfortunately, many innocent families are accused of abuse and neglect each year, and there are significant impacts on these families as a result.
Below you’ll find five of the most common issues with Child Protective Services (CPS):
#1 - Reporting Mandates
Mandated reporting helps hospital workers and people in other similar occupations feel safe in reporting child abuse or neglect because it is expected of them. Retaliation against workers who submit reports is rare because of reporting mandates.
However, one of the unintended consequences of mandated reporting is false accusations. Since people in certain positions are required to report child abuse and neglect, they can be penalized for not submitting such reports.
As a result, CPS hotlines receive a skyrocketing number of reports each year. According to a 2016 report, at least 7.4 million children were brought to the attention of child abuse hotlines. In Illinois during 2018, a total of 77,422 families were investigated, but just 20,023 reports were substantiated.
#2 - Racial Biases
Race relations in the U.S. are often tense. As minorities and communities of color continue to be disproportionately impacted by consequential laws across the nation, their children are often affected as well.
For instance, an analysis of 2015 data displays that Peoria County in Illinois forced children into foster care from Black families at rates nearly eight times higher than those of the non-Black population.
#3 - Confirmation Bias
Confirmation bias occurs as a result of the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of your existing beliefs or theories.
Doctors work closely with CPS to determine the merits of the hotline calls that their hospitals place. CPS rarely uses independent forensic specialists, which are common in settings where disagreements may arise over challenged facts.
A particular group of child-abuse pediatricians are the middle people between parents accused of abuse and the state authorities. If cases are filed in court, state prosecutors tend to rely heavily on these same pediatricians for medical-expert testimony against the accused parent.
Oftentimes, parents don’t realize and are not told that their child’s assigned pediatrician is connected to CPS. As a result, some parents share their family’s personal histories freely, which can end up as mistranscribed information in the notes taken by the police, CPS investigators, and the state’s attorneys.
#4 - Investigation Denials
Sometimes, when families are accused of child abuse as a result of medical findings, they can request an independent evaluation to help substantiate the claims reported to CPS. However, CPS has the right to deny these requests, in which case, the families are left to fund the investigation out-of-pocket.
Even then, a family can spend tremendous amounts of money to present several expert testimonies from various types of physicians and medical professionals, and the CPS-affiliated pediatrician assigned to the case can still insist on keeping the investigation open.
#5 - “When In Doubt, Call the Hotline”
This notion has been put in place to protect children from more subtle forms of abuse and neglect, but the idea has perhaps done more harm than good. It inevitably causes unfounded stress for families wrongly accused of abuse.
Unless there is a fear of immediate harm to a child, a medical review for “reasonable suspicion” is best held before a call is made to CPS. Neutral decision-makers should be utilized.
Similarly, physicians who work directly with the state should disclose their roles so that parents are given a sincere and fair choice about responding to abuse allegations. There should be no question whether a doctor working on a child’s medical care team is actually a CPS physician who evaluates the merits of a hotline call.
Additionally, significant delays in finishing CPS investigations should not be tolerated, especially for cases in which there is no evidence of parental wrongdoing.
Improvements in the CPS system would benefit everyone involved, including children whose parents intentionally hurt them and children whose parents are innocent of harm.