What Does Child Protective Services Investigate as Neglect? A Population-Based Study

Lindsey Palmer, Sarah Font, Andrea Lane Eastman, Lillie Guo, Emily Putnam-Hornstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Most child protective services (CPS) investigations involve allegations of neglect. Broad and vague definitions have led to concerns that CPS-investigated neglect is driven by poverty-based material hardship. In a representative sample of 295 neglect investigations in California in 2017, structured data and narrative text fields were used to characterize the types of neglect and concurrent parental risk factors investigated by CPS and to assess the rate and nature of investigated physical neglect, defined as inadequate food, housing, or hygiene. The most common types of neglect were inadequate supervision (44%) and failure to protect (29%), followed by physical neglect (14%). Common risk factors identified in neglect investigations were parental substance use (41%), domestic violence (21%), mental illness (18%), and co-reported physical or sexual abuse (29%). Nearly all investigations of physical neglect (99%) included concerns related to substance use, domestic violence, mental illness, co-reported abuse or an additional neglect allegation (i.e., abandonment). Given concerns identified in neglect investigations, economic supports are likely insufficient without an array of behavioral-health supports.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)96-105
Number of pages10
JournalChild Maltreatment
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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