Although more than six million children were involved in referrals by Child Protective Service Agencies in 2006, only "1,907,264 investigations received a disposition" (National Child Abuse Statistics, 2007: 1). A legitimate concern, therefore, is whether too many referrals are being made or whether the investigative process is somehow deficient. This essay will discuss and analyze the investigative process as it typically pertains to child abuse situations.
As an initial matter, it is important to note that a uniform approach to child abuse investigations is complicated by the fact that each state has different statutory definitions of child abuse and neglect. There are federal standards that serve as guidelines, but states are free to create and enforce their own definitions so long as the state definitions do not conflict with federal law. There are two federal laws that define child abuse or neglect, Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act and the Keeping Children and Families Safe Act of 2003, and the basic federal standard states that "Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm" (Child Maltreatment 2006: 1). The threshold for the initiation of an investigation, therefore, can be cased on a positive act of child abuse or neglect when a parent or caretaker is aware or should be reasonably aware that child abuse has occurred or is occurring. In addition, an investigation may be initiated for different types of abuse, whether physical, emotional or some combination thereof.
Investigators, usually associated with local Child Protective Service Agencies, initially rely on tips from parents or other caretakers. These tips or referrals are used in conjunction with various signs of child abuse that have proven empirically reliable when making a determination whether to initiate a full investigation. Some of the physical signs of child abuse look for by investigators include such things as anti-social behavior, a fear of authority figures, or unexplained damage to the child's body. Some of the emotional signs include a lack of concentration at school and eating disorders that become increasingly pronounced. There are also some well-established signs of sexual abuse; for example, investigators are often alerted when children report bedwetting, nightmares, or a premature interest in or knowledge of sexual or otherwise age-inappropriate activities (Signs of Child Abuse, 2007: 1). In short, whether a tip is acted upon initially upon the information received, the signs detected by the investigators, and any corroboration that the investigators can obtain.
An investigatory problem sometimes arises, however, because of jurisdictional conflicts or confusion. The main conflict occurs between law enforcement officials and mental health or welfare professionals; indeed, as noted by McBride, "In virtually every state in the country, law enforcement has a legal mandate to be involved in child abuse and neglect investigations. The issues are not over whether they will be involved, but rather how and to what degree. What is expected of