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Section 2
Child Protective Services vs.
General Protective Services

Question 2 | Test | Table of Contents


Child Protective Services

Child Protective Services, or CPS, is provided by the Department of Human Services and each individual county agency for child abuse cases and is responsible for any reports which have a reasonable cause to suspect child abuse, such as "non-accidental serious physical or mental injury, sexual abuse, or exploitation, or serious physical neglect caused by acts or omissions of the parent or caretaker" [7]. Non-accidental injury is defined as "an injury that is the result of an intentional act that is committed with disregard of a substantial and unjustifiable risk" [8].

Child protective services require a child abuse investigation.

Case Scenario

A very young boy is originally removed from his home and placed into foster care upon a report of life threatening medical neglect. Months after the young boy was removed from the home, he began partially supervised overnight and weekend visits with his mother. However, even with these visits, it was reported that the child was not being properly taken care of. Following another incident involving the mother becoming upset with and threatening the case manager, a report was written about the concerns that she had as well as the relationship between the young boy and his mother.

After another three months of supervised visits and an evaluation, the case manager recommended the return of the young boy back to his mother, which was the condition set by the court when the boy was originally taken away and placed into foster care. Five months after this occurred, an incident occurred with the young boy and other children playing with a lighter and gasoline while unsupervised. The children burned themselves because of this and were removed from the home for neglect, specifically a life endangering environment and a lack of supervision [9].

General Protective Services

General Protective Services, or GPS, Those services and activities provided by each county agency for cases requiring protective services, as defined by the department in regulations. General protective services are supports and services provided when protective services are required in non-abuse cases. [8]

All reports are handled by the county Children & Youth agency & services are provided to families as identified through assessments. This could include problems which threaten a child’s opportunity for healthy growth and development [10]. Under the Pennsylvania code, General Protective Services provides services to prevent the potential for harm to a child who meets one of the following conditions [11]:

i. Is without proper parental care or control, subsistence, education as required by law, or other care or control necessary for his physical, mental, or emotional health, or morals;
ii. Has been placed for care or adoption in violation of law;
iii. Has been abandoned by his parents, guardian, or other custodian;
iv. Is without a parent, guardian, or legal custodian;
v. Is habitually and without justification truant from school while subject to compulsory school attendance;
vi. Has committed a specific act of habitual disobedience of the reasonable and lawful commands of his parent, guardian, or other custodian and who is ungovernable and found to be in need of care, treatment, or supervision;
vii. Is under 10 years of age and has committed a delinquent act;
viii. Has been formerly adjudicated dependent under section 6341 of the Juvenile Act (relating to adjudication), and is under the jurisdiction of the court, subject to its conditions or placement and who commits an act which is defined as ungovernable in subparagraph (vi);
ix. Has been referred under section 6323 of the Juvenile Act (relating to informal adjustment), and who commits an act which is defined as ungovernable in subparagraph (vi)


Under Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law, or CPSL, the definitions of child abuse are used in order for a mandated reported to report a case of child abuse. CPS cases typically involve child abuse and maltreatment. However, the individual who files the report of child abuse does not, and should not, begin to investigate or attempt to determine whether child abuse has actually taken place or if the case should be within the purview of CPS versus GPS. The questions that will determine whether the case is CPS or GPS should be investigated and answered by the child abuse investigator, not the individual who files the report of child abuse [12].

On the other hand, GPS cases, compared to CPS cases, Mandated reporters are required to report all suspected incidents of child to ChildLine or the Child Welfare Portal. The trained staff at ChildLine will determine how the case is classified. Reports that involve non-serious injury or neglect are treated by the agency as General Protective Service (GPS) cases and can include inadequate shelter, truancy, inappropriate discipline, hygiene issues, abandonment, lack of appropriate supervision, or other problems that threaten a child’s opportunity for healthy growth and development. These services can assist parents in being able to recognize and correct conditions that are harmful to their children.

Child Protective Services (CPS) cases require that the alleged abuse falls under the definition of child abuse as provided in the Child Protective Services law.

Pennsylvania has a distinct response to reports of suspected child abuse and other noted concerns about the child’s well-bring, this distinction is the difference between CPS and GPS [12].

Pennsylvania’s child abuse reporting authority, also known as ChildLine, is an organizational unit of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services that operates a statewide toll-free system to receive reports of suspected child abuse, regardless of whether the cases are a matter of CPS or GPS. When ChildLine receives a report of suspected child abuse, they refer the report to begin the investigation, forward the report of suspected child abuse to the local county children and youth services agency, and maintain the report of suspected child abuse within the appropriate file [13].

Mandated reporters must make their reports immediately and directly to ChildLine by way of electronically or through calling ChildLine’s toll-free number. GPS referrals do not directly trigger a child abuse investigation and are to be filed directly with a county’s children and youth service agency, who will proceed to conduct an assessment of the report and the situation. These GPS referrals may also involve incidents where a child was physically harmed, but the resulting injury to the child did not meet the state definition of "child abuse".

7. "Child Protective Services." Mifflin County. 2015. Web. 27 Nov. 2016.

8. "Child Protective Services Law." Pennsylvania Department of Human Services. n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2016.

23 PA. CONS. STAT. §6303 (a) Definitions
23 Pa.C.S. §6303 (a)

9. "Neglect / Chronic Neglect Case Study." Indiana University School of Social Work Child Welfare. n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2016.

10. "General Protective Services." Mifflin County. 2015. Web. 27 Nov. 2016.

11. "The Pennsylvania Code." Subchapter C. General Protective Services. n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2016.

12. "Child Protection Report." The Protect Our Children Committee. n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2016.

13. "Call to Report Child Abuse!" Pennsylvania Department of Human Services. 2016. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Magaletta, P. R., Hom, M. A., Stanley, I. H., & Joiner, T. E. (2020). Strategies and solutions to address the mental health needs of protective service workers: An introduction. Psychological Services, 17(2), 127–128. 

Maguire-Jack, K., Font, S. A., & Dillard, R. (2020). Child protective services decision-making: The role of children’s race and county factors. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 90(1), 48–62.

Milne, L., & Collin-Vézina, D. (2015). Assessment of children and youth in child protective services out-of-home care: An overview of trauma measures. Psychology of Violence, 5(2), 122–132.

Salzer, M. S., Berg, K. L., Kaplan, K., & Brusilovskiy, E. (2021). Custody challenges experienced by parents with serious mental illnesses outside of child protective services proceedings. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 44(2), 197–200.

What is the criteria for a report being GPS or CPS? To select and enter your answer go to Test

Section 3
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