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SPRINGFIELD, IL, MAY 14, 1998 -- Repeat child abuse has declined significantly since the implementation of an assessment tool designed to help workers identify risks to children in their homes, says a newly-released report to the Illinois General Assembly. This was accomplished without increasing the number of children being taken into DCFS custody, the study says.
Studies cited in the third annual report on the DCFS Child Endangerment Risk Assessment Protocol (CERAP), noted a 28 percent decline in the rate of recurrence of abuse or neglect to children since the Illinois Department of Children and Family Servicesí implementation of the Protocol in 1995. The CERAP includes a checklist of risk factors used to assess whether a child is in immediate danger of harm.

According to the report, 93 percent of intact family cases reported for child abuse or neglect had CERAP checklists used during the investigation. The report noted the assessments were also performed in 87 percent of substitute care cases that were closed. But the CERAP was found to be most often used during investigations, before cases are closed, and prior to returning a child home.

The CERAP Advisory Committee praised the Departmentís high rate of CERAP usage, but directed the Department to focus additional attention on improving compliance rates. The Committee also advised DCFS that its monitoring of the training and certification of new hires, both in the Department and private sector, is crucial to the Protocolís effectiveness.

"This report is great news," said Governor Jim Edgar, whose Task Force on Family Preservation recommended and developed the Protocol on which the Legislature based Public Act 88-614.

"From Task Force members, to legislators, to the caseworkers and investigators in the field -- all of them can take pride in knowing they helped make life safer for thousands of children," Edgar said.

Public Act 88-614 was passed with the intent of standardizing the process of assessing harm to children found to be abused or neglected. The Act grew out of a recommendation from the Task Force formed in the wake of the tragic death of three-year-old Joseph Wallace at the hands of his mentally-ill mother, Amanda Wallace, in 1993. The Act requires workers who make decisions about whether to leave children in the care of an abusive parent or to return the child to an abusive parent to be trained and certified in the use of the Protocol.

To date, more than 7,000 DCFS and private agency workers have received CERAP training and certification.

The Advisory Committee, legislatively-mandated to provide evaluation reports to the General Assembly each year, noted in its report that the CERAP has been the driving force behind dramatic improvements in a short period of time. Research by the Committee showed the decline in recurrence of abuse or neglect to children could not be accounted for by policy changes, lower caseloads, substitute care placement rates, or statistical changes seen at the national level.

"We ask a great deal of our social workers and court personnel when we ask them to predict with absolute accuracy the future likelihood that a child will be injured," said Advisory Committee Chairman Richard H. Calica, who is also Executive Director of the Juvenile Protective Association.

"The CERAP has provided a definition of what can reasonably be expected from our state social workers who carry our burden and concern for the safety of children. While itís never possible for them to predict with 100 percent accuracy, our current results are very impressive (and) the credit lies with the administration and staff of DCFS," Calica said.

The checklist of risk factors is used within 24 hours after an investigator first sees the alleged child victim, and whenever circumstances suggest the childís safety may be in jeopardy. The same assessment must also be performed by caseworkers at regular intervals and immediately prior to returning a child home.

"We have built upon the accomplishments of the first two years to ensure that CERAP is effective throughout the life of our involvement with the family," said DCFS Director Jess McDonald. "But the most important factors in the Protocolís success can be tied to the training of staff and their support of its use in the field. It is a testament to their work that we are seeing fewer repeat cases of abuse or neglect."

The report noted that the 28.6 percent decrease in recurrence was largely due to CERAPís high usage rate by investigators and caseworkers. It also noted that when no CERAP assessment was completed within five days of an abuse or neglect report, the likelihood of a recurrence of maltreatment was more than double. It found that having more than four family problems identified increased the odds of children being reinjured by almost three times, while having an unsafe CERAP judgment made by a worker almost doubled odds of a second indicated report within 60 days.

Research will be extended into the next year to identify special risk factors which distinguish families at highest risk from others.

"The findings and recommendations of this report verify the importance of the CERAP, and show us in concrete terms how this tool is helping to protect our most vulnerable citizens," said Director McDonald. "Now we must do an even better job of using the Protocol to protect every child, throughout every critical step of the child welfare process."

The report was prepared by the CERAP Committee with assistance from staff of the American Humane Association, DCFS, and the Children and Family Research Center from the School of Social Work at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Copies may be obtained by contacting the DCFS Office of Communications at 312-814-6847, or by visiting the DCFS web site (

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