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Decision to find sexual abuse substantiated

Decision to find sexual abuse substantiated When abuse is investigated, child protective services workers then determine whether the abuse occurred. When enough evidence exists to conclude that abuse did occur, it is said to be substantiated. Overall, child protective services only substantiates about 34% of all investigated abuse and neglect (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1998). One study of 293 randomly selected cases in a New York county, however, found that only 12% of child sexual abuse cases were substantiated, a rate lower than that of other types of abuse and neglect (Levine, Doueck, & Freeman, & Compaan, 1998). Again, only a few studies have examined factors that predict whether abuse is substantiated. One predictor with mixed findings is the age of the child. While Eckenrode et al. (1988) and Freeman et al. (1996) both found that cases involving older children were more likely to be substantiated, another study found that age only approached significance after controlling for other significant predictors (Haskett, Wayland, Hutcheson, & Tavana, 1995). Dersch and Munsch (1999) also express concerns that cases involving male victims of sexual abuse are less likely to be substantiated, and this hypothesis was supported in their bivariate analysis. They also found, however, that male victims were significantly younger than female victims. These findings are consistent with those of Eckenrode et al. (1988), who found in bivariate analysis that males were less likely to have their cases substantiated. After controlling for the age of the child, however, gender was no longer significant. These findings suggest that any lower substantiation rate for male victims is most likely because of their younger age. Another study asked 117 caseworkers about information that was more likely to lead to a valid report (Giovannoni, 1991). Items they mentioned were a specific allegation by the child, eye witnesses, allegations by the nonoffending parent, the reporter’s firsthand knowledge, an admission by the perpetrator, medical reports, and physical evidence. Factors used in making their decisions to substantiate the abuse were the logical discourse of disclosure, its consistency with other reports and across interviews, and the presence of corroborating evidence. Offender access to the child was also a consideration in substantiating the abuse, as were the credibility of the child and how upset the child was during the interview. Other factors have been studied less. Eckenrode et al. (1988) found that cases reported by professionals were more likely to be substantiated. Haskett et al. (1 995) also found that while cases involving penetration were more likely to be substantiated,cases within a divorce or custody dispute were less likely to be substantiated. Only 15% of cases involving custody disputes were substantiated, as compared to 67% of all cases that were substantiated. While most of the factors leading to substantiation are logical, even though not always desired (such as lower substantiation rates for younger victims), some are cause for concern. First, although the previous section found that most allegations of sexual abuse made within a custody or divorce dispute are valid, even the few cases that are screened in are usually not substantiated. Thus, many children are not adequately protected, especially considering that most of the alleged offenders may then have court-mandated, unsupervised access to the child. It is also of concern that the presentation of the child during the disclosure, especially whether or not the child is upset, is related to whether child protective services workers consider it a more valid case of abuse. A final and lingering question is how many children whose cases are unsubstantiated are actually victims of sexual abuse. Most clinicians working with victims have probably had the experience of serving a child whose previous disclosure of abuse was not substantiated, only to have the child be revictimized. Until a rigorous study investigates cases of unsubstantiated abuse, this question cannot be answered. Yet, these false negative cases represent the failure of the system to protect identified victims of child sexual abuse. Even a few of these false negatives are cause for concern.

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