When a family comes to the attention of child welfare services, various assessments of risk, safety, child and family functioning, and trauma occur during the intake process, also known as screening. Deciding whether to move a case forward for investigation, assessment, or service referral is one of the most important roles of a child protection agency. If a report is incorrectly screened in, families can face unnecessary intrusions, potential law enforcement involvement, and needless child and family separation. If referrals are incorrectly screened out, opportunities to help children and keep them safe may be lost.
Families of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds are more likely to be screened in for a child protective services investigation and substantiated for child maltreatment. Child welfare agencies should examine how agency policies, case and caseworker characteristics, and screening criteria may disproportionately affect children from diverse families. Caseworkers who have detailed, culturally relevant guidelines about what constitutes maltreatment may find it easier to control bias. Also, because poverty disproportionately affects communities with families of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, issuing guidance and using assessment tools that can help caseworkers distinguish between poverty and neglect is an important step toward reducing racial disproportionalities.
On this page, find resources on screening and intake, including State and local examples, along with best practices and more information on the child protection process.
- Screening & intake in child protection
- Investigation of child abuse & neglect
- Responding to types of abuse or neglect
- Recurrence of child maltreatment
Factors Associated With the Decision to Investigate Child Protective Services Referrals: A Systematic Review (PDF - 4,775 KB)
Damman, Johnson-Motoyama, Wells, & Harrington (2020)
Child & Family Social Work, 25
Examines factors associated with social worker decisions to investigate reports of child maltreatment using studies over a 35-year period.
Making and Screening Reports of Child Abuse and Neglect
Screening Questions for Routine Intake Assessment
Child Abuse Reporting
Reviews screening questions to ask children, adolescents, and parents about suspected physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect.
What Are the Elements of an Effective Hotline System?
Casey Family Programs (2018)
Describes the importance of an effective hotline system, which is often the first point of contact between the public and the child protection agency. The webpage also showcases examples of successful hotlines, describes common elements of effective hotlines, and offers research on the use of hotlines in child protection.
Actions DCF Takes When Child Abuse or Neglect Is Reported
Massachusetts Department of Children and Family
Describes information screeners collect for reports of suspected child abuse or neglect, the screening process for determining whether an allegation meets the criteria of suspected abuse or neglect and whether there is immediate danger to the safety of a child, response timelines, and possible responses.
Developing Predictive Models to Support Child Maltreatment Hotline Screening Decisions: Allegheny County Methodology and Implementation (PDF - 1,740 KB)
Vaithianathan, Putnam-Hornstein, Jiang, Nand, & Maloney (2017)
Describes the methodology used to develop the Allegheny Screening Tool, which is a model used to help inform, train, and improve screening decisions made by child protection staff.
Improving Maine’s Child Welfare Telephone Intake System (PDF - 147 KB)
Maine Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Child and Family Services (2019)
Explains how Maine manages its State child protection hotline and describes efforts to improve the capabilities of the intake telephone system and modernizations.
Minnesota Child Maltreatment Intake, Screening, and Response Path Guidelines (PDF - 1,131)
Minnesota Department of Human Services (2021)
Reviews the intake, screening, and response process used by the Minnesota Department of Human Services. The guidelines describe aspects the screening team must consider when screening in or out a report, such as credibility, risk of harm, child vulnerability, and exposure to alcohol or other substances.