At intake, the CPS agency receiving the referral must gather enough information from the reporter, agency records, and State central registries to permit decision-making. This information must include whether the reported family is currently involved, or has a history of involvement, in the child welfare system.
The agency must then make two primary decisions. First, it must decide whether the reported information meets the statutory and agency definitions for child maltreatment and guidelines for agency involvement. If the agency decides that the referral does meet the statutory and agency definitions and guidelines, it then confronts a second decision concerning the urgency of the required response: how quickly a caseworker must make contact with the family. Because definitions of abuse and neglect vary by State, intake caseworkers must be familiar with their State and county laws and regulations, since what is considered maltreatment in one location may not be considered maltreatment in another.
As a result of the intake process, the referral will either be screened out or screened in. A report may be screened out (not referred for investigation or differential response) for the following reasons.
- It is clear from the information received that no child maltreatment occurred.
- The allegation did not meet the State’s statutory or agency guidelines, or did not concern child abuse and neglect.
- The report did not contain enough information to identify or locate the child and family.
- The child in the referral was the responsibility of another agency or jurisdiction, such as a military installation or a Tribe.
- The alleged victim is not a child.
What happens to screened out reports varies by States and depends upon the reason the report was screened out. The screened-out report may be closed with no further action, or the CPS agency may make a referral to another agency for other services or make a referral to the entity that has jurisdiction over the matter. In some States, the CPS agency may use a differential response to provide services that support family efforts to prevent possible maltreatment.
If the report meets the statutory and agency definitions required for acceptance, then it is screened in. When a report is screened in, it is assigned for an investigation or, if used by the State, a differential response.
Regardless of whether the CPS agency conducts an investigation or differential response, the caseworker must respond to a referral that is screened in within a set time period, usually defined in State statute or policy. The response time depends on the type of maltreatment alleged, the immediate safety concerns for the child, and the potential severity of the situation. For example, in cases screened in for alleged sexual abuse or severe physical abuse or neglect, the initial investigation will be more immediate and usually must begin within 24 hours. Otherwise, in most States, the initial investigation or differential response assessment usually begins within 24 to 72 hours after receiving the referral.