June 2009Vol. 10, No. 5Probationer Parents and the Child Welfare System
A newly published study examines the outcomes, characteristics, and experiences of probationers' children with whom child protective services (CPS) had contact. In the study, "Children of Probationers in the Child Welfare System and Their Families," data on a nationally representative sample of reported victims of maltreatment were used to examine parent-probationers' contact with the criminal justice system and concurrent changes in the children's lives, including their safety, health, and well-being, over 36 months.
The authors used data from the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being to help them identify a cohort of children who remained in their homes after a completed CPS investigation of maltreatment and who had primary caregivers sentenced to probation in the previous year. They focused on three outcomes:
- Child safety was assessed with reports of maltreatment and exposure to primary caregivers with problems associated with maltreatment.
- Permanency was measured as changes in primary caregivers and household composition.
- Child well-being was determined as the presence or absence of child emotional and behavioral problems.
Results show that 36 months after coming into contact with CPS, about 40 percent of these children were no longer living with their probationer-parents. During that same period, children's exposure to risk factors such as parental substance abuse, mental illness, or domestic violence dropped markedly, often due to a change in caregivers. There also was a trend toward increased emotional and behavioral problems.
In discussing the results, the authors note that 1 in 20 children who remain in their homes after CPS investigations are being cared for by parents (typically mothers) who were sentenced to probation in the past year. The importance of further research on this population is stressed.
The article, by Susan D. Phillips, Sonya J. Leathers, and Alaattin Erkanli, was published in the April 2009 issue of The Journal of Child and Family Studies and is available through the SpringerLink website: