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Responding to Basic and Complex Cases of Child Abuse: a Comparison Study of Recent and Current Child Advocacy Studies (CAST) Students with DSS Workers in the Field

Abstract

In an effort to improve the training of future child protection professionals, more than 70 universities and graduate schools in the United States have implemented Child Advocacy Studies (CAST) minors or graduate programs. In order to assess the efficacy of these programs, 46 current and recent graduates of a CAST minor and 43 child protection professionals currently employed by a Department of Social Services (DSS) were given two vignettes. The first vignette involved a clear case of sexual abuse and the second vignette involved a more complex case involving polyvictimization. The students were asked to identify various systems that needed to be involved, potential corroborating evidence, risk and protective factors, and types of victimization. In the case of sexual abuse, the current CAST students and CAST graduates performed at the same level as DSS caseworkers. On the more complex polyvictimization scenario, the current CAST students and CAST graduates performed significantly better than all levels of DSS caseworkers in identifying systems that respond to child maltreatment and in identifying psychological and emotional abuse. The results of this study suggests that undergraduate CAST minors may be an effective model for improving the knowledge and skills of future child protection professionals in responding to complex cases of maltreatment.

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Author information

Correspondence to Jennifer Parker.

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On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

Ethical Standards and Informed Consent

The University of South Carolina Institutional Review Board (USC IRB) has determined that the referenced research study is not subject to the Protection of Human Subject Regulations.

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Appendices

Appendix 1: Survey given for both CASE #1 and CASE #2

  1. I.

    System Response

    1. a.

      List all systems (agencies, organizations) currently involved in this case:

    2. b.

      List any additional systems likely to become involved as the case investigation progresses:

    3. c.

      Briefly state the role of each system responding to this case scenario:

  2. II.

    Corroborating Evidence

    1. a.

      List all potential evidence for the investigation of this case:

  3. III.

    Risk and Protective Factors

    1. a.

      List all factors in this case that contribute to risk of child maltreatment:

    2. b.

      List all factors in this case that may act as a buffer to protect children from maltreatment:

  4. IV.

    Victimization

    1. a.

      List all possible forms of victimization based on initial case information:

  5. V.

    Demographics

    1. a.

      I am a current CAST student and I have completed CAST 301, 401, 402 and 499 (internship).

    2. b.

      I graduated in _____________ (insert graduation year) with a minor in CAST.

    3. c.

      I am a child protection professional with ___ years of DSS experience. (insert # of years)

      1. i.

        I am a (circle one): supervisor; case worker

      2. ii.

        I work in (circle one): investigations; treatment; foster care; other_______________

Please circle gender option

  • My gender is: Male Female

Appendix 2

  1. I.

    System Response

    1. a.

      List all systems (agencies, organizations) currently involved in this case:

      (Categories from APSAC Handbook, Chapter 3 along with CAC and Family)

  1. 1.

    Child Protective Services

  2. 2.

    Law Enforcement

  3. 3.

    Health Care/Medical

  4. 4.

    Mental Health/Therapy

  5. 5.

    Legal (attorneys, courts, GALs)

  6. 6.

    Education/Child Care/Other Community-based providers

  7. 7.

    CACs

  8. 8.

    Family

    1. b.

      List any additional systems likely to become involved as the case investigation progresses:

(Categories from APSAC Handbook, Chapter 3 along with CAC and Family)

  1. 1.

    Child Protective Service.

  2. 2.

    Law Enforcement.

  3. 3.

    Health Care/Medical.

  4. 4.

    Mental Health/Therapy.

  5. 5.

    Legal (attorneys, courts, GALs).

  6. 6.

    Education/Child Care/Other Community-based providers.

  7. 7.

    CACs.

  8. 8.

    Family

    1. c.

      Briefly state the role of each system responding to this case scenario:

      (open coding)

  1. II.

    Corroborating Evidence

    1. a.

      List all potential evidence for the investigation of this case:

CASE Scenario (polyvictimization)

  1. 1.

    911 call tape

  2. 2.

    Photographs

  3. 3.

    Statements (neighbor, mother, father, 7yo child)

  4. 4.

    Reports (EMS, ER/other hospital/forensic medical, CAC)

  5. 5.

    Physical evidence at scene (list)

CASE Scenario (sexual abuse)

  1. 1.

    Registration records at campground

  2. 2.

    Witness who may have seen/heard something at campground

  3. 3.

    Incriminating statements grandfather made to others referencing the camping trip

  4. 4.

    Physical evidence (photos of weekend, fish in freezer, receipts for purchases, fishing license, fishing equipment, etc)

  5. 5.

    Semen stains on sleeping bag, tent, boy’s or grandfather’s clothing

  1. III.

    Risk and Protective Factors

    1. a.

      List all factors in this case that contribute to risk of child maltreatment:

      (Using Factors from CDC – code for total # identified)

Individual Risk Factors

  • Children younger than 4 years of age

  • Special needs that may increase caregiver burden (e.g., disabilities, mental retardation, mental health issues, and chronic physical illnesses)

  • Parents’ lack of understanding of children’s needs, child development and parenting skills

  • Parents’ history of child maltreatment in family of origin

  • Substance abuse and/or mental health issues including depression in the family

  • Parental characteristics such as young age, low education, single parenthood, large number of dependent children, and low income

  • Non-biological, transient caregivers in the home (e.g., mother’s male partner)

  • Parental thoughts and emotions that tend to support or justify maltreatment behaviors

Family Risk Factors

  • Social isolation

  • Family disorganization, dissolution, and violence, including intimate partner violence

  • Parenting stress, poor parent-child relationships, and negative interactions

Community Risk Factors

  • Community violence

  • Concentrated neighborhood disadvantage (e.g., high poverty, residential instability, high unemployment rates, high density of alcohol outlets), and poor social connections.

Risk and Protective Factors

  1. b.

    List all factors in this case that may act as a buffer to protect children from maltreatment:

Family Protective Factors

  • Supportive family environment and social networks (supported by research)

  • Nurturing parenting skills

  • Stable family relationships

  • Household rules and child monitoring

  • Parental employment

  • Adequate housing

  • Access to health care and social services

  • Caring adults outside the family who can serve as role models or mentors

Community Protective Factors

  • Communities that support parents and take responsibility for preventing abuse

  1. IV.

    Victimization

    1. a.

      List all possible forms of victimization based on initial case information:

      (# of victimizations identified)

CASE Scenario (poly-victimization)

  1. 1.

    Child neglect by caregiver

  2. 2.

    Child physical abuse by caregiver

  3. 3.

    Child sexual abuse by caregiver

  4. 4.

    Child psychological/emotional abuse

  5. 5.

    Child witness to violent crime

  6. 6.

    Child exposure to pornography

  7. 7.

    Intimate partner violence

  8. 8.

    Adult psychological/emotional abuse

  9. 9.

    Animal abuse

CASE Scenario (sexual abuse)

  1. 1.

    Child sexual abuse.

  2. 2.

    Child exposure to pornography.

  3. 3.

    Child psychological/emotional abuse

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Parker, J., McMillan, L., Olson, S. et al. Responding to Basic and Complex Cases of Child Abuse: a Comparison Study of Recent and Current Child Advocacy Studies (CAST) Students with DSS Workers in the Field. Journ Child Adol Trauma (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40653-019-00297-7

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Keywords

  • Child abuse
  • Child welfare training
  • Child advocacy studies