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Many child abuse complaints aren't investigated by city social service agencies in Virginia


NORFOLK, Virginia — City social service agencies in Virginia investigated only 17 percent of the child abuse complaints that they received during a four-year period, according to an analysis of state records by The Virginian-Pilot.

City agencies statewide received 467,445 child abuse complaints and investigated 81,515 between June 2009 and 2013. Forty percent of the complaints were not accepted for following up by child protective service workers, the newspaper ( ) reported Wednesday.

Sixty percent of the cases were accepted for follow up. Most of these ended up in family assessment, which means social workers visit the family but don't take steps to set up a formal case. Examples of such cases cited by the newspaper include "minor physical injury," prenatal substance exposure, lack of supervision, mental abuse/neglect and a lack of food, clothing or shelter.

In cases that are investigated, social workers determine whether there is abuse. If actual abuse is determined, social workers can take action, including removing a child from the home.

In Virginia, the state plays a supervisor role and each city operates its own Child Protective Services office. Complaints are made either to a hotline or directly to a Child Protective Services.

"What you have going on in Virginia is a system that is just trying to keep its head above water," said John Mattingly, the leader of the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Child Welfare Strategy and a former New York City Administration for Child Services commissioner.

Virginia does not have any guidelines for what percentage of calls should be accepted or investigated. Nationwide, 70 percent of calls are generally expected to be serious enough to be accepted, said Mattingly, who reviewed the records for the newspaper.

Cities in Virginia could choose to investigate every case but money and resources are limited, said Mary Walter, child protective services policy specialist with the state Department of Social Services.

Information from: The Virginian-Pilot,

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