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November 2004Vol. 5, No. 9Improving Responses to Allegations of Severe Child Abuse

Since 1998, New York City's Administration for Children's Services (ACS) has been collaborating with the New York police department and district attorneys in an effort to reduce trauma to children when allegations of severe abuse and neglect are present and to effect the speedy arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators. This collaboration, called the Instant Response Team (IRT) Program, was the subject of a study recently published by the Vera Institute of Justice.

The IRT Program brings together child protective workers, police, and prosecutors to respond to child abuse and neglect accusations within a 2-hour timeframe. All interviews with the children are conducted in a child-friendly environment. Protocols are in place to coordinate the investigation, and information sharing is encouraged among all agencies involved in the investigation.

Vera researchers analyzed data from the IRT Program and compared it with data from the State Central Registry in New York, which maintains all allegations of child maltreatment in the State. Researchers also conducted interviews with program staff and shadowed child protective workers on one case. Vera identified many strengths of the IRT Program, including:

  • Ninety-nine percent of IRT cases examined met the established IRT protocol.
  • IRT cases were more likely to have an allegation substantiated than other New York City cases (52 percent vs. 35 percent).
  • IRT staff reported better information sharing among agencies, stronger working relationships, and more efficient case processing since the program began.
  • Incidents of multiple exams and interviews decreased.
  • Prior to the start of the IRT Program in 1998, if a removal was necessary following an incident of abuse or neglect, the child was more likely to be removed (57 percent of cases) than an alleged perpetrator. However, by 2002, the perpetrator was more likely to be removed (68 percent of cases).

Vera noted that the main challenge the IRT Program faced was rapid growth. IRT caseloads have increased 160 percent from 1999 to 2002. This increase allows for more efficient use of child welfare resources but has placed a larger burden on law enforcement and prosecutors.

More information on the Vera Institute of Justice report is available on the website at (PDF - 967 KB).

Related Item

Another recent publication from the Vera Institute, "Youth Who Chronically AWOL from Foster Care: Why They Run, Where They Go, and What Can Be Done" ( reports on interviews with foster care staff and adolescents in foster care with a history of AWOL behaviors. It discusses where the youth go when they leave foster care and how staff can prevent this pattern of behavior.