Research-based Risk Factors for Child Maltreatment: Do Child Protection Workers Use them in their Case Investigations?

B. Erens*, C. de Ruiter, H. Otgaar, J. Humblet

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In order to prevent future child abuse, it is important to implement appropriate treatment according to risk factors present within a family. These principles are described in the risk-need-responsivity (RNR) model. We investigated 192 case files from Dutch child protective services on reported risk factors. We hypothesised that important risk factors (relating to parents and parent-child interaction) would often be absent from the case files. This expectation was confirmed, indicating that the RNR model cannot be used as intended. We provide recommendations to incorporate more evidence-based methods in child protective services.Risk assessment is an essential aspect of child abuse investigations in order to estimate the risk of future abuse and to develop a risk management and intervention plan. According to the risk-need-responsivity model, intervention and risk monitoring needs to target dynamic risk factors to prevent future child maltreatment. In the current study, we examined whether child protection workers in the Netherlands focus on evidence-based risk factors for child maltreatment. We investigated 192 case files retrospectively for risk factors included in the Child Abuse Risk Evaluation-NL, a structured risk assessment instrument. We expected to find limited information concerning parental risk factors and risk factors related to parent-child interaction, but more information on family and child factors. These hypotheses were confirmed. Because parental and parent-child interaction factors are the most important and proximal risk factors for child abuse, our findings point to a large gap between science and child protection practice. We recommend the use of a structured risk assessment instrument and a risk-focused approach to intervention planning.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberbcac042
Pages (from-to)3945-3963
Number of pages19
JournalBritish Journal of Social Work
Issue number7
Early online date12 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2022


  • child maltreatment
  • child protection work
  • risk-need-responsivity model
  • structured risk assessment


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