Susbtantiation of child maltreatment allegations: Implications for reporting, screening, and investigation practices

Date of Completion

January 1999


Psychology, Social|Psychology, Clinical|Sociology, Criminology and Penology




This study investigates rates and correlates of substantiation for different types of maltreatment allegations (n = 2,920) in the Third National Incidence Study (NIS-3). Results indicate that different factors predict substantiation for different types of maltreatment. Sexual abuse cases were more likely to be substantiated when they involved families who were the subject of previous Child Protective Service (CPS) maltreatment reports, more severe abuse, investigations with which mothers and fathers cooperated, and allegations which mothers and fathers denied. Physical abuse cases were more likely to be substantiated if they involved older victims, non-teenage mothers, and more severe abuse. Neglect allegations were more likely to be substantiated when they involved older victims, families with previous CPS involvement, more severe neglect, and mothers who were cooperative with the investigation. ^ Evidence of these relationships provides validity information about the NIS-3 as compared to past studies of substantiation. These data also clarify formerly disparate results regarding the relationship that victim age, victim gender, perpetrator identification, and family socioeconomic status have on substantiation rates, indicating that the effects of these variables are different for different types of maltreatment. ^ Preliminary data from the NIS-3 do not support CPS screening on the basis of families' involvement in prior CPS reports, anonymous reporting sources, or denial of allegations by perpetrators. However, our findings suggest that some variables identified by mandated reporters as grounds for not reporting are related to lower rates of case substantiation. Thus, we propose that more flexible reporting options be provided to mandated reporters who demonstrate an understanding of both their reporting obligation and effective ways of serving maltreating families. ^ Continued research into factors that influence the substantiation of child maltreatment allegations will aid in developing risk assessment instruments for use by CPS agencies. The use of such instruments renders staff better trained, as well as more efficient. In turn, this leads to more cost-effective investigations and reduced investigative burdens, thereby freeing resources to be applied to secondary prevention projects that promote family cohesion while reducing harm to children. ^