July 8, 2018

In 2015, more than 7 million children in the U.S. were referred to child protective services (CPS) agencies for alleged maltreatment. Given the prevalence of maltreatment and its association with adverse health outcomes throughout the life course, public health researchers want to better understand and predict those who are at risk for CPS intervention.

A new study by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health used novel data sources and methods to identify factors shortly before and during pregnancy that increase the likelihood of a child’s future contact with CPS. This adds to the growing literature describing ways to predict and prevent the need for CPS intervention.

Anna Austin

Anna Austin

Anna E. Austin, MPH, doctoral student in maternal and child health, is lead author of the study, published online June 2 in the journal Child Abuse and Neglect.

Austin and colleagues used data from the Alaska Longitudinal Child Abuse and Neglect Linkage project, which brings together 2009-2011 Alaska Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System data with administrative data sources to identify child contact with CPS for alleged maltreatment, out-of-state emigration and death.

Among the predictors for referral to CPS were socio-economic status, maternal smoking during pregnancy, unmarried status of the mother, urban residence, lower maternal education and maternal experience of intimate partner violence in the 12 months prior to childbirth.

Other significant predictors included the mother’s having a greater number of living children and greater number of stressful life events in the previous year, younger maternal age at birth of child, and Alaska Native/American Indian race.

“Our results suggest that assessing for and addressing clinical, social and environmental indicators during the prenatal period may aid prevention efforts in mitigating family need for involvement with child protective services agencies,” Austin said.

Co-authors of the article are Meghan Shanahan, PhD, assistant professor of maternal and child health at the Gillings School and researcher at the UNC Injury Prevention Research Center, and Jared Parrish, PhD, a 2015 Gillings School alumnus now a senior epidemiologist with the Alaska Department of Health and Human Services.


Contact the Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at sphcomm@listserv.unc.edu.

Visit our communications and marketing team page.
Contact sphcomm@unc.edu with any media inquiries or general questions.

Communications and Marketing Office
125 Rosenau Hall
CB #7400
135 Dauer Drive
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7400