Maryland Child Protective Services evaluates thousands of potential cases of child neglect, abuse and mistreatment each year to determine what actions are needed to protect some of the state’s most vulnerable population: its youth.
But according to a Wednesday discussion during a Joint Committee on Children, Youth and Families meeting, there are holes in the state data reporting and it’s currently unclear how many families and children receive services to protect kids from mistreatment.
Dr. Wendy Lane, chair of the State Council on Child Abuse and Neglect (SCCAN), provided a briefing to the joint committee about the history of the council, which was established to evaluate state agencies’ effectiveness regarding child protective services, and gave lawmakers updates on child well-being in the state.
But according to Lane, SCCAN is facing issues in reporting data on families who are screened for alleged child mistreatment, possibly due to the state’s data system used to track and report those cases.
The Senate chair for the committee, Sen. Mary-Dulany James (D-Harford) seemed shocked by the data challenges on such an important topic.
“The thing that really got my attention … is the lack of accurate tracking and reporting in services and outcomes,” she said during the meeting.
Lane reported to the committee that SCCAN collects data from the Maryland Department of Human Services each year, which breaks out the number of referrals that come into child protective services in the state and the results of the referrals.
The most recent data from DHS was from 2021, and there were over 74,000 total referrals for alleged child mistreatment in the state. About half of those cases evaluated in 2021 where “screened out” of needing further investigation, leaving about 35,298 needing additional investigations.
But this is where the holes in the data points begin, according to Lane.
For example, in 2021, there were about 14,746 families that were referred to receive “alternative response” due to low level risks of child abuse and neglect. This is when a plan is made between the family and the caseworker in order to improve family conditions and safety for the child before CPS officially gets involved with a more serious investigation.
The state data shows that only 711 of those families actually received “family preservation services” while 136 children were removed from their families and went to out-of-home placement options like foster care. Lane says that there is not data for the remaining 13,899 families in this category.
“So our question is … what happened to all those other kids?” Lane posed to the committee. She said that the minimal data makes it unclear as to whether thousands of children are receiving services or not.
That is also the case for families who are actively investigated for child abuse. According to the presentation, there were 6,573 instances where investigations indicated that a child was experiencing abuse within their family.
The data only shows that 1,118 of those families received family preservation services, while 678 children were removed and placed into out-of-home supervision. According to Lane, SCCAN did not receive state data for the remaining 4,777 cases.
“But there’s a lot of kids that – maybe they’re getting services and maybe they’re not. They’re just not included in this documentation,” she said.
Lane says that the lack in data may be due to the program that the state uses to collect information on child well-being called the Child, Juvenile and Adult Management System, which is shortened to CJAMS.
She said that there are issues in the data system itself that makes it challenging to input data and receive certain points of data, including the information about what happens to thousands of families who are screened for potential child mistreatment, neglect or abuse.
“I don’t know that’s because they’re not getting services or their services are not getting adequately tracked because of issues with CJAMS or other issues. And we don’t have specifics on what services they receive even if they do receive services.”
Stephen Liggett-Creel, senior advisor to the secretary of the Department of Human Services, confirmed Lane’s concerns about the CJAMS data system and said that the Moore administration is aware of the issues.
“I’m not surprising anyone to say that…there has been documented and reported challenges with data in the past,” he said during the meeting. “Things that have been very, very at the top of this current administration’s focus, around, particularly, CJAMS.”
Liggett-Creel said that the data is there, and that the department is open to working with SCANN to address any data concerns they have.
James asked Liggett-Creel to follow-up after the meeting with the availability of those data points and the accessibility for others to look use it.
“The issue of this committee is to find out how others…SCCAN, the legislative body… they all want to have access, so they can make meaningful policy decisions,” she said.
By Danielle J. Brown