State child welfare agencies investigated reports of abuse and neglect involving more than 3 million children in 1996. Many more children, however, were and continue to be initially referred to child welfare agencies for child maltreatment1 allegations. State agencies assess each such referral to determine how best to respond and if the referral merits investigation. Child welfare agencies receive many referrals that clearly do not constitute abuse or neglect or that provide so little information that the agency has no way to locate the alleged perpetrator and conduct an investigation. Referrals are screened, and such screening serves a gate-keeping function, allowing child welfare agencies to determine which families are investigated and, by extension, which families may eventually receive more intensive agency services. In this process, some child maltreatment allegations are screened out before an in-person investigation is conducted.
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