Factors associated with the decision to investigate child protective services referrals: A systematic review

Jeri L. Damman, Michelle Johnson‐Motoyama, Susan J. Wells, Kelly Harrington - Child & Family Social Work


Limited resources for child protection create challenging decision situations for child protective services (CPS) workers at the point of intake. A body of research has examined the factors associated with worker decisions and processes using a variety of methodological approaches to gain knowledge on decision‐making. However, few attempts have been made to systematically review this literature. As part of a larger project on decision‐making at intake, this systematic review addressed the question of the factors associated with worker decisions to investigate alleged maltreatment referrals. Quantitative studies that examined factors associated with screening decisions in CPS practice settings were included in the review. Database and other search methods were used to identify research published in English over a 35‐year period (1980–2015). Of 1,147 identified sources, 18 studies were selected for full data extraction. The studies were conducted in the United States, Canada, and Sweden and varied in methodological quality. Most studies examined case factors with few studies examining other domains. To inform CPS policy and practice, additional research is needed to examine the relationships between decision‐making factors and case outcomes. Greater attention needs to be given to the organizational and external factors that influence decision‐making.