A Population-Based Examination of Suicide and Child Protection System Involvement

Lindsey Palmer, John Prindle, Emily Putnam-Hornstein - Journal of Adolescent Health



The purpose of this study was to provide a population-based analysis of child protection system (CPS) involvement among children and adolescents who died by suicide.


We performed a case–control study of child and adolescent suicide and CPS involvement. Using linked birth, death, and CPS records, we longitudinally followed all children born in California in 1999 and 2000 (N = 1,052,333) in CPS and death records through 2017. Cases were defined as children who died in California and had a manner of death coded as suicide using the International Classification of Diseases, 10th revision (n = 170). Each suicide case was matched to four living controls, and children were classified based on CPS exposure: no history, reported for alleged child maltreatment, substantiated for child maltreatment, and placed in foster care. Crude suicide rates were documented, and conditional logistic regression models were used to estimate the adjusted odds of suicide.


Among children and adolescents who died by suicide, 56.5% had a history of past allegations of abuse or neglect. Children with any CPS history had three times the odds of suicide compared to children with no history. No additional risk was found for children substantiated or placed in foster care compared to children with only an allegation.


Suicide risk is not isolated to the relatively small group of children and youth placed in foster care. Findings reinforce the importance of increased attention to the experiences of the larger universe of children who remain at home after alleged or substantiated maltreatment.