How the United States of America Manages Child Maltreatment Cases

Child maltreatment is a serious issue that can leave children with trauma and debilitate them from being the best version of themselves. Defined as behavior in a household by parents or caregivers that has the potential to seriously physically injure or emotionally traumatize the child, child maltreatment makes homes unsafe for children and unfit for their development. The American Child Welfare system was made to mitigate the issue of child maltreatment in America and help save the lives of innocent youth who deserve a better upbringing conducive to a fulfilling life.

The Initial Process

Investigation into the possible mistreatment of a child starts with an account being told to a child welfare agency like Child Protective Services (CPS). Many people in a child’s life could report their suspicion of abuse; they could be the child’s pediatrician, school teacher or anyone else present to have seen evidence of abuse occurring. Examples of such behavior include, “neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse or neglect” by parents, guardians or caregivers. Evidence of abuse can appear physically, through dialogue or observations in the behavior of the child.

In a process called screening, CPS looks at the case disclosed and decides whether or not there are grounds for further investigation into the case. If enough evidence is found to match the state's legal definitions of child maltreatment, the case is “screened in,” and an investigation into the home is started.

The way the investigation proceeds is decided on a case-by-case basis, weighing the severity and conditions of the situation. A less severe situation may involve a case worker going to look at home conditions or investigate the family, while a more extreme situation may involve children being sent away from their homes for their safety. This could be to a foster home, shelter, or family member's house.

The CPS worker in charge of the investigation then determines if what they observe throughout their work is defined by law as child maltreatment. If it does, initiative is taken to better the family.

Action is Taken

If the case is deemed to involve child maltreatment, action is taken. The action depends on the amount of risk for future maltreatment the case shows. Low to moderate risk cases are referred to resources that offer help with household issues, while the child typically continues to stay with their parents. Placement in the foster system is not typically considered for cases with low to moderate risk for future abuse or neglect, but it is for cases with high risk. However, the actions taken also depend on state law, prior actions the agency has taken in this case, the current state of the child’s environment, and other possible solutions which could keep the family together.

High risk cases are not only reviewed by CPS but also by state courts. When the case gets to a state court, it is decided whether the child will be put in custody of adults other than his or her parent/s, one example of this being foster care. The result of court proceedings could lead them back to their family, but it is also possible that they never return to the parents who mistreated them.

The Future of the Family

The life of a family after being investigated by CPS is different than what it used to be. Either the family is offered or obligated to use programs to help their situation or bound to not see each other. If they are separated, it is possible that they may be allowed to see each other again at a judge’s discretion. They may also be put in a foster care situation for some time, where they are still allowed to visit their family at scheduled times. The parent/s or caregiver/s are usually given resources to help them strive to be better candidates to look after their children. The children and parent/s are eventually allowed to reunite once the parent/s are considered suitable guardians, but it is possible that custody is completely taken away from the parents with processes like adoption or the legal shift of custody to another family member.

Parents through this process are usually allowed to improve themselves to be better for their sons and/or daughters. However, in hostile cases, where the harm that has been done constitutes criminal charges, parents must go to trial. In these instances, CPS takes the case to police, and their offenses are taken to criminal court to determine punishment. It also may be determined that the parent must have their information on a registry, which can be examined at workplaces, so boys and girls in their area are not at risk to suffer the same abuse they have shown to other children.

Abusive parents may additionally have their parental rights involuntarily terminated. This is a legal process in which the parent has rights like raising and having a relationship with the child, knowing the child’s status in the child welfare system and being legally recognized as the parents child are taken away. In order to sever parental rights, in most cases CPS must prove to state courts that the parent/s is/are not capable of parenting the child and that it would benefit the child.