Law and Human Behavior

, Volume 22, Issue 3, pp 341-347

First online:

Do Standards of Proof Affect Decision Making in Child Protection Investigations?

  • Murray LevineAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, State University of New York at Buffalo


Every state investigates child maltreatment reports. Some states use a lower standard of proof of “some credible evidence” (or similar terms) to substantiate cases after investigation. Other state legislatures prescribe a higher standard of “preponderance” of the evidence. Legislatures use these terms of art as a matter of policy to control the risk of false-positive errors. A lower rate of substantiation should follow from a higher standard of proof. There was no statistically significant difference in the percent of substantiated and the percent of unsubstantiated cases in the two groups of states. If state policy to reduce the false-positive error rate is to be effective, something more is required than simply manipulating the verbal formula in legislation.