Like any entrenched bureaucracy, so-called "Child Protective" "Services" (CPS) has its own phalanx of unique terms, words they use in different ways than the rest of us, acronyms, and buzz words. The two terms you need to know today are "founded" and "valid." These are new buzz words that are being bandied about that refer to the front-end process of CPS interventions into family life.
They refer, specifically, to the debate over how strident and serious CPS should take all of the millions of reports and "referrals" they receive from the general public. Now, even though CPS is fairly monolithic, their training process for new hires and internal record-keeping, ongoing professional development programs, etc, are notoriously weak, and there can be drastic variation from CPS jurisdiction to CPS jurisdiction when it comes to how these reports and referrals are handled.
Here is an article that is the key installment of a series of articles between two people involved in the greater CPS efficacy/uselessness argument...one a college professor that supports the current "system," and the other a lawyer who has fought to get reforms:
Here is an excerpt that covers, sort of, the complexities associated with the investigative process on original reports, and these terms:
"He starts with a discussion of how hotline call investigations operate, introducing what seems, at first blush, to be a useful distinction between 'valid' and 'founded' allegations. The distinction he offers, fairly enough, is that a 'valid' allegation is one that essentially 'states a claim' for abuse or neglect, while a 'founded' allegation is one with a sufficient evidentiary basis."
The first step in handling any report to CPS, should be a return call from a law enforcement official, reminding the person making the report that a false report is a criminal offense, and a potential jail sentence. The reason, in my opinion, that it should start with the LEO community is that they are less vested in the "profit motive" that can result in tens of thousands of dollars pouring into local CPS coffers for successful adoption "placement" of "desirables." Just making this change would probably reduce many of the "revenge" calls that often come in (between spouses involved in a custody battle for example) and "malicious" calls from people who are just "out to get" the subject(s) of the call knowing full well that they are "bearing false witness" against them.
LEOs are typical trained in investigation, and usually far better than CPS caseworkers. The cases that are considered to be both "founded" and "valid" could then be passe on to CPS for further investigation. Hopefully rather than the 45% of original calls that move forward to the current investigative process, having LEOs screen these calls at the front end might reduce that number as low as 10%--of which maybe half will be found, on full investigation, to be legitimate situations where CPS interventions might be warranted.
"But valid allegations are not necessarily allegations that warrant investigation.... A simple example shows how a hotline call can be 'valid' without being 'warranted':
Assume that an active, healthy and bright 4-year-old gets frequent bumps and bruises on the playground at his preschool. Assume the 4-year old’s father is engaged in a custody battle with the mother and takes every new bruise as evidence to be used to gain an advantage in his ongoing custody battle (the sexes of the parents could be flipped here). The father (or the father’s surrogate—a therapist, doctor, or friend) calls the child abuse hotline reporting suspected abuse by the mother due to the new bruises on the child’s shoulder and legs.
There is no doubt that this abuse allegation is 'valid.' ...Should this call therefore be investigated? I don’t think so. First, this hotline call has none of the hallmarks that turn a valid claim into prima facie true one. Its source is biased: the caller (or his surrogates; it is common for surrogates to be enlisted in the fray) seeks an outcome that is advantageous to him. Second, there is no reported history that would lead a reasonable person to believe that the mother caused the bruises, and there are many other possible causes. Playground incidents caused past bruises, which appear on common spots for accidental injuries. Third, the fear that animates need for child protection intervention into family life in the first place is not present as to this child—he is happy, healthy, and developing well."
Unfortunately, that last bit is not always determinative. If there is one thing that it seems CPS lacks above all else it is common sense...oh, and empathy. It's as though few CPS employees have ever had children of their own, and that they thus lack a basic understanding between common play (and bruises that are sometimes just a common part of it) and potential real abuse. I would almost suggest--if we are going to keep CPS at all-- that CPS ONLY hire people who have been successful parents themselves. I know they would rage against such a stricture, and insure us that"we would be putting millions of children at risk. " However, truth be known, we have now clearly reached a place where the gravest risk that most children in the western world face is to be caught up in the CPS nightmare with clueless caseworkers who won't believe them and invariably seem to make the worst possible decisions for "their welfare."
So in summary, let's look beyond whether various referrals calls are "founded" or "valid," and instead focus on who handles those calls, and the level of empathy and commonsense those people possess, in order to do a FOUNDED AND VALID job of fielding those calls properly and fairly, and doing the real right thing for children and families.