CPS…Why and When They Come Visiting

How CPS decides whether a Texas child is endangered

Chairs and articles of clothing outside the Old Red Courthouse memorialize Dallas County children who died as a result of child abuse.  (Evans Caglage/2013 staff photo)

AUSTIN — Decisions on how fast to send out a state worker to see a child who may be abused or neglected begin at a statewide call center in Austin.

The Statewide Intake employs 310 trained workers who review reports of abuse, neglect and exploitation involving children, the elderly and the mentally disabled that are made through the Texas Abuse Hotline.

Intake specialists enter all data from reports received, assign a priority level and route them to the appropriate program — Child Protective Services, Child Care Licensing or Adult Protective Services – and geographic region.

An ad by Cook Children's Health Care System in Fort Worth urges people to report child abuse.

Last year, there were about 782,000 reports. Almost 78 percent were received by phone. Many are questions and special requests. Just over half are actual allegations of maltreatment.

Of those, two-thirds go to CPS. Nearly three-quarters of the reports it gets come from school and medical personnel, police, and noncustodial parents and other relatives.

Statewide Intake notifies law enforcement of all reported abuse and neglect of children.

If CPS under law would have primary responsibility to investigate, intake workers assess, first, whether the reporting person has described maltreatment. If so, they determine if the tipster provided enough detail for an investigation to be begun. They also weigh whether a report is “inconsistent with the known circumstances found in a recently closed case,” according to the CPS handbook.

After weeding out the incomplete or questionable tips, intake workers must decide how urgently children and families need to be seen.

A case is Priority 1 — or “P1” — if “a child appears to face an immediate threat to his or her safety or is in immediate risk of abuse or neglect that could result in death or serious harm,” the handbook says.

Certain other circumstances automatically upgrade an allegation to a P1. For example, if in the past 12 months, CPS was unable to complete an investigation into a child-maltreatment report about the family, the case is given top priority.

A tip can be rated Priority None –or “PN” – if intake workers have no current worries about a child’s safety and there’s no risk of recurrence of some past mistreatment.

“For example, a child reports that she was sexually abused by an uncle six years ago,” the handbook explains. “The parents are protective. The uncle lives in a nursing home and has no access to the child.”

In limited instances, reports are initially deemed PN until a key piece of information that is missing can be obtained by CPS field workers in the regions. For instance, a worker might need to call a school nurse to learn whether and how a child has been injured.

All other cases the intake specialists determine CPS needs to investigate – and aren’t P1 or PN — are Priority 2, or P2.

Last year, of the 252,000 abuse-neglect cases that CPS investigated, 20 percent began as P1 intakes; and 61 percent as P2s. Seventeen percent were PNs and 2 percent were classified as being part of a new “alternative response” program that diverts low- and moderate-risk cases from traditional investigation to a more service-oriented, family-centered type of casework.

Once a prioritized report leaves Statewide Intake, it goes to one of CPS’ 11 regional offices.

There, state law allows the agency to contact school counselors, family physicians, clergy or other credible sources to see if a child’s safety can be ensured without actual investigation.

In cases that involve children 6 or older, the screener does the review. If there are alleged victims younger than 6, a CPS supervisor does the review. Supervisors and screeners can leave the priority on a report assigned by Statewide Intake unchanged; lower or raise the priority; or close the case if the child is determined to be safe.

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