Caseworker judgments and substantiation

Theodore P. Cross, Cecilia Casanueva

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Substantiation can have an important effect on what interventions are pursued for children investigated for maltreatment, but researchers lack knowledge about how the decision to substantiate is made. Using information from 4,515 children from a national probability study of children investigated for maltreatment, this study examined how caseworker judgments of harm, risk, and evidence predicted substantiation. The substantiation rate was 29.9%, but the majority of cases were substantiated when caseworkers reported at least moderate harm, at least moderate risk, and/or probably to clearly sufficient evidence. Each judgment variable significantly predicted substantiation in a multivariable model, with evidence the strongest predictor. Child gender and age were significant predictors beyond harm, risk, and evidence, suggesting that other judgments also influence substantiation. In 9 of 100 cases, reports were not substantiated despite moderate to severe harm. Thus, substantiation is generally based on judgments of harm, risk, and evidence but not exclusively. The findings underline previous researchers' conclusions that substantiation is a flawed measure of child maltreatment and suggest that policy and practice related to substantiation are due for a fresh appraisal by state child welfare service agencies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)38-52
Number of pages15
JournalChild Maltreatment
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2009


  • Caseworker judgment
  • Child protective services
  • Investigation
  • Risk assessment
  • Substantiation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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