Lifetime rates and types of subsequent child protection system contact following a first report of neglect: An age-stratified analysis

Lindsey Palmer, Sarah Font, Rebecca Rebbe, Emily Putnam-Hornstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


An estimated 1 in 3 U.S. children will be the subject of a child protective services (CPS) investigation during their lifetime, typically for allegations of neglect. Whether and how an initial report of neglect is addressed may place children on divergent trajectories for safety and stability throughout childhood. The purpose of this study is to track subsequent CPS contact among children born in California in 2000 who were first investigated by CPS for neglect allegations alone (no co-occurring abuse) and not permanently separated from their families of origin (i.e., not removed or reunified if removed). We estimated the rates of subsequent CPS referrals, substantiated maltreatment, placement in foster care, and allegations of physical and sexual abuse by age 18. We assessed how rates of subsequent contact varied by initial CPS response and age at first investigation. Supplemental analyses disaggregated data by race and ethnicity. Results indicate that 64% of children initially investigated for neglect alone were re-referred to CPS by age 18 and 16% experienced a subsequent removal; however, these estimates varied greatly by age. Four out of five (79% to 83%) of children initially investigated as infants had one or more subsequent CPS referrals during childhood. Children were not only re-referred for allegations of neglect; more than half of children re-referred were reported for allegations of physical or sexual abuse, indicating that abuse risk was either missed during the initial CPS investigation or escalated afterward. The failure to address maltreatment risks when children first present to the system is a complex problem with no easy solution. Our findings document that a majority of children initially referred for neglect experience future CPS involvement, often for allegations of physical or sexual abuse.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0283534
JournalPloS one
Issue number4 April
StatePublished - Apr 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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