Actuarial risk assessment in child protective services: Construction methodology and performance criteria

Carol Coohey, Kristen Johnson, Lynette M. Renner, Scott D. Easton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Purpose: To prevent the recurrence of child maltreatment, actuarial risk assessment can help child protective services (CPS) workers make more accurate and consistent decisions. However, there are few published articles describing construction methodologies and performance criteria to evaluate how well actuarial risk assessments perform in CPS. This article describes methodology to construct and revise an actuarial risk assessment, reviews criteria to evaluate the performance of actuarial tools, and applies a methodology and performance criteria in one state. Methods: The sample included 6832 families who were followed for two years to determine whether they were re-reported and re-substantiated for maltreatment. Results: Both the adopted and the revised tools had adequate separation and good predictive accuracy for all families and for the state's three largest ethnic/racial groups (White, Latino, and African American). The adopted tool classified relatively few families in the low-risk category; the revised tool distributed families across risk categories. Conclusions: The revised tool classified more families as low-risk, allowing CPS to allocate more resources to higher-risk families, but at the cost of more false negatives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)151-161
Number of pages11
JournalChildren and Youth Services Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2013


  • Actuarial
  • Child protection
  • Measurement
  • Methodology
  • Risk assessment
  • Validation

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