Child welfare social workers (CPS) and law enforcement professionals are the sole professional groups in California assigned the task of investigating child physical and sexual abuse allegations. Both professional groups report that child-well-being is the ultimate outcome desired when addressing the needs of vulnerable and “at risk” children. Despite this shared vision CPS and law enforcement professionals also described competing outcomes that are often contradictory; particularly in how each group characterizes different professional responsibilities in achieving child well-being. For example, CPS describes the dual responsibilities of preventing children from further harm while at the same time identifying factors that led to the abuse and providing non-punitive services aimed at preserving and strengthening family ties; including maintaining the children safely in their homes whenever possible. On the other hand, law enforcement’s view of child abuse as a crime shapes their perception of how things are handled. Law enforcement has the responsibility for collecting criminal evidence that frequently results in the offending parent being prosecuted and spending time in jail, possibly dismantling the family unit. Understanding how these two professional groups collaborate to execute their conflicting, professional responsibilities forms the overall focus of this study.

Child welfare social workers and law enforcement professionals were recruited from Riverside and San Bernardino Counties to participate in the study. Theoretical sampling, snowball sampling, and convenience sampling techniques were used to ensure that data was collected from a minimum of 20 participants who were identified as subject matter experts. Data was collected through face-to-face interviews using semi-structured interview guides. Transcribed interviews were entered into the QSR*NVIVO 8 software program for data management and to provide an audit trail. Seven major themes emerged from the data.

Findings revealed that CPS and law enforcement professionals do not collaborate; they cooperate and coordinate on an inconsistent basis. Overall, dissimilar professional standards engendered conflict and negative perceptions of each other producing poor working relationships. However, the research revealed that the working relationship between the two entities seems to improve when they are co-located/share the same physical workplace. More research is recommended to determine if such working arrangement impacts collaboration.

LLU Discipline

Social Policy and Social Research


Social Work and Social Ecology


School of Science and Technology

First Advisor

Freeman, Kimberly

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Level


Year Degree Awarded


Date (Title Page)




Library of Congress/MESH Subject Headings

Child Abuse -- Investigation -- United States; Law Enforcement; Social Case Work; Child Welfare -- United States; Social Case Work with Children -- United States

Subject - Local

Clinical Social Workers; Inter-Organizational Collaboration; Interagency Collaboration; Multi-Disciplinary Teams; Child Well-Being; Grounded Theory; Constructivist Grounded Theory



Page Count

217 p.

Digital Format


Digital Publisher

Loma Linda University Libraries

Usage Rights

This title appears here courtesy of the author, who has granted Loma Linda University a limited, non-exclusive right to make this publication available to the public. The author retains all other copyrights.


Loma Linda University Electronic Theses & Dissertations

Collection Website



Loma Linda University. Del E. Webb Memorial Library. University Archives

Included in

Social Policy Commons