Introduction to Safety

Helping families stay intact, preventing children from entering the foster care system prior to a CPS referral (primary prevention) or after a CPS referral (secondary prevention) and preventing children who have found permanency through reunification, adoption or guardianship, from re-entering foster care are all important roles that advocates can influence.

Each year, Child Protective Service (CPS) agencies receive an estimated 4 million referrals involving approximately 7 million children. Most CPS agencies use a two-step process to respond to allegations of child maltreatment: 1) screening and 2) investigation and alternative response. A CPS agency receives an initial notification, called a referral, alleging child maltreatment. The referral may include more than one child. Agency hotlines or intake units conduct a screening to determine whether a referral is appropriate for further action. For those cases screened in, an investigation is conducted with the primary purpose of either determining whether the child was maltreated or is at-risk of being maltreated and to determine if services are needed and which services to provide. In some states, an alternative response is implemented, usually when the child is at low or moderate risk of maltreatment.

More children and families who come to the attention of CPS through a referral will be screened-out or receive an alternative response. In 2016, about 40 percent of victims received no post-investigation services and for those who did, the services were far fewer services than they needed. Prevention and early intervention are needed at the front-end of the system so children can remain safely with their families and out of foster care. Consequently, more efforts and funding should be concentrated on prevention of child abuse and neglect and strengthening families with the supports they need to safely raise their children.

The Child Maltreatment 2016 Report:

Victim demographics on the most common types of maltreatment and child death from abuse or neglect

  • Children 0 to 1 had the highest rate of victimization at 24.8 per 1,000 children.
  • American-Indian or Alaska Native children had the highest rate of victimization at 14.2 per 1,000 children of the same race or ethnicity. African American children had the second highest rate at 13.9 per 1,000 of the same race or ethnicity.
  • The greatest percentages of children suffered from neglect (74.8%) and physical abuse (18.2%).1

A nationally estimated 1,750 children died from abuse and neglect in 2016.  Seventy percent of all child fatalities were younger than 3 years old. The rate of African-American child fatalities is 2.2 times greater than the rate of White children and almost 3 times greater than the rate of Hispanic children. Seventy-eight percent of child fatalities involved at least one parent.


1 A victim who suffered more than one type of maltreatment was counted only once per type.