Journal Issue: Preventing Child Maltreatment Volume 19 Number 2 Fall 2009
Recurrence of Maltreatment
After an initial maltreatment report, children may be reported to child protective services again. Such “recurrence” may involve both re-reporting and re-victimization, but most research to date has focused on re-reporting.77 Using administrative data to trace recurrence involving re-victimization is complicated because multiple reports may precede the second substantiated allegation. The risk of re-victimization recurrence for children placed in foster care drops because foster care is a protective environment (even though maltreatment also occurs in foster homes). Recurrence following reunification from foster care is of particular importance because it provides a way to judge whether the decision to reunify was correct. Another issue is the interval between recurring reports (or victimization as the case may be). Over the life course, recurrence involving any given children can happen at any time. Most occurs within two years, but children are at risk for substantially longer (depending on their age at victimization).
Although recurrence rates are generally low, state recurrence rates vary considerably. As defined by the federal government for the purpose of monitoring state child welfare programs, recurrence involves the substantiation of an allegation within six months of the first substantiated allegation. State recurrence rates vary between 2 percent and 14 percent, though these data do not take into account whether children are placed in foster care.
The most recent study completed with NCANDS is perhaps the most comprehensive in that it reports both re-reporting and substantiated re-reporting, taking into account service history (in-home services versus foster care), child characteristics (for example, age, gender, race, disability status), and prior allegation history.78
The NCANDS findings are for the most part consistent with earlier research. Age at initial report is important for both re-reporting and re-victimization. Infants are more likely than older children to return to child protective services. The cumulative re-report rate within two years was nearly 27 percent; the rate of substantiated re-reports was a bit higher than 10 percent. Children with a history of victimization had higher rates of re-reporting (22 percent) and substantiated re-reporting (nearly 10 percent) than did children whose initial report was not substantiated. Alcohol and substance abuse increased markedly the likelihood that a child would be the subject of a substantiated re-report, but not that the child would be re-reported.
Both post-investigation service use and post-placement service use were positively linked to re-reports and substantiated re-reports. About 25 percent of the children served in-home after the investigation were re-reported; 10 percent had substantiated re-reports. For children placed in foster care the comparable figures were 27 percent and 15 percent, respectively. The latter figure is close to the rate of reentry for children reunified from foster care.79 The higher rate of re-reporting among children who receive services is somewhat of a conundrum. On balance, the explanation appears to be that child welfare workers refer more difficult cases to services. Rates of recurrence are thus higher because the same factors that predict use of services predict whether a subsequent report is recorded.