How Does A CPS Case Work? When to report?

The Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare (“Bureau”),
a division of the Wisconsin Department of Health and Fam-
ily Services (“Department”), provides child abuse preven-
tion and related services in Milwaukee County. The Bu-
reau receives reports of child maltreatment at its intake
office. When an intake screener receives a call, he drafts an
intake form to “screen in” or “screen out” the report for
investigation. If the report is screened in, an intake super-
visor will assign it an urgency level to determine how
quickly an investigation must be initiated. Although state
law technically requires a 24-hour response to all screened-
in reports, Bureau guidelines separate reports into three
categories: (1) 0-2 hour response; (2) 24-hour response;
and (3) 2-5 day response. Once an urgency level has been
assigned by the intake supervisor, the intake office then
opens a file and e-mails it to one of the five field offices,
each covering a particular geographic area. After the file
is received by a field office, a site supervisor assigns the
file to a caseworker, who is then required to contact the
reporter(s) (of child abuse), “collateral contacts” (i.e., eye-
witnesses or others with knowledge of the situation),
and the alleged maltreater, and to document all such con-
tacts. The Bureau’s “Investigation Standards” establish
the protocols for investigating different types of alleged
maltreaters. For example, if the alleged maltreater is a
parent, the caseworker must, in descending order, inter-
view the child, any siblings, the non-maltreating parent
(if applicable), and the maltreating parent. Caseworkers
must also investigate: (1) physical evidence (e.g., injuries);
(2) “systems assessment” information about the child
and family; and (3) reports from anyone with information
about the case. Based on all of the foregoing information,
the caseworker and supervisor assigned to the case must
then determine whether to substantiate that maltreatment
has indeed occurred.1

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