Child safety is the paramount concern of the public child welfare system. In Illinois, a series of tragic deaths in the early 1990s among children involved in the child welfare system led to increased attention on incidents of severe maltreatment and prompted the Illinois legislature to turn a critical eye to the safety of children involved in DCFS investigations. Public Act 88-614 required DCFS to develop a standardized Child Endangerment Risk Assessment Protocol (known as the CERAP) and submit an annual evaluation to the Illinois General Assembly that examines the reliability and validity of the protocol.
Each year since 1997, the Children and Family Research Center has completed an evaluation that examines some aspect of the relationship between safety assessment and maltreatment recurrence in Illinois. The earliest evaluations focused on pinpointing the effect of CERAP implementation on child safety by examining historical group comparisons of children who were investigated prior to or subsequent to CERAP implementation. Evaluation results were consistent with the conclusion that the CERAP had a demonstrable impact on short-term maltreatment recurrence rates. More recent evaluations have examined the association between safety assessment use in the field and maltreatment recurrence, finding that safety re-assessment at the conclusion of the investigation is associated with lower rates of maltreatment recurrence.
The Center's research on the effectiveness of safety assessment in Illinois has evolved into a larger program of research examining the child, family, case, and organizational characteristics associated with a child's risk of maltreatment recurrence. Other areas of recent research include current studies of families that are chronically-reported to Child Protective Services, and a randomized control trial examining the effectiveness of Differential Response on child safety.