The Standard of Proof in the Substantiation of Child Abuse and Neglect

Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, Forthcoming

62 Pages Posted: 6 Aug 2016

See all articles by Nicholas Kahn

Nicholas Kahn

American University - Department of Economics

Josh Gupta-Kagan

University of South Carolina School of Law

Mary Eschelbach Hansen

American University - Department of Economics

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: June 10, 2016

Abstract

We measure the extent to which requiring a high standard of proof for substantiation of child abuse or neglect by child protection agencies actually influences the disposition of a report of abuse or neglect. Using data on nearly 8 million reports from fiscal 2000-2012, we show that a high standard is associated with lower rates of substantiation and that an increase in the standard decreases the probability of substantiation by up to 14 percent. After a change to a high standard, children may be less likely to be placed in foster care, and children and families are more likely to receive other types of services. Increases in the standard seem to be driven by perceptions of the costs of type 1 error – that is, substantiating a report when no abuse occurred. Indeed, states’ decisions to increase the standard are strongly correlated with fatalities in foster care and the size of the foster care system, suggesting that public concern about type 1 error leading to overly-invasive child protection agency action can spur a shift in the standard of proof.

Keywords: standard of proof, child welfare, child protection investigations

Suggested Citation

Kahn, Nicholas and Gupta-Kagan, Josh and Hansen, Mary Eschelbach, The Standard of Proof in the Substantiation of Child Abuse and Neglect (June 10, 2016). Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2818533

Nicholas Kahn

American University - Department of Economics ( email )

4400 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20016-8029
United States

Josh Gupta-Kagan

University of South Carolina School of Law ( email )

1525 Senate Street
Columbia, SC 29208
United States

Mary Eschelbach Hansen (Contact Author)

American University - Department of Economics ( email )

4400 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20016-8029
United States

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