CA’s Child Abuse Database Riddled with Errors and Missing Information

Roughly 27,000 reports filed in a four year timespan were not included in the database meant to protect children

An audit of the Child Abuse Central Index (CACI) “found that less than half of the 52,000 reports of child abuse that social workers substantiated from July 2017 through June 2021” were included in the database.

The Acting California State Auditor, Michael Tilden, submitted a report on Tuesday along with a letter to the Governor and Legislative Leaders, in which he wrote that “users of CACI cannot depend on the database to help protect children,” and that “the audit found that the current child abuse reporting process is cumbersome and error-prone.”

CACI was created in 1965 to help state and local agencies protect California’s children. It’s meant to be a comprehensive database of child abuse cases used to “inform screening decisions for applicants who wish to care for children or before placing a child in a foster care home,” the report explained. However, it found that the database “does not contain records for as many as 22,000 individuals with histories of substantiated child abuse.”

When a background check is requested and includes a CACI search, the Department of Justice will issue a response letter. The report, however, found that the DOJ “provided at least 224 letters to authorized users indicating that individuals did not have substantiated child abuse reports when county records indicated otherwise.”

“It is clear that we must maintain better data to ensure the protection of our children.” said Assemblyman Tom Lackey, who requested the audit along with co-signers from both sides of the aisle.

Other errors included “298 reports of child abuse in CACI that were not supported by county records.” This led to the DOJ sending out 25 letters notifying authorized users “that these individuals were a possible match with a known child abuse suspect.”

Assemblyman Lackey said “individuals are being needlessly stigmatized.”

The report proposed three potential long-term solutions for improving CACI reporting: allow the DOJ direct access to the Child Welfare Services/Case Management System that social workers use to enter reports, which is the option recommended by auditors; build an electronic interface to transmit data from CWS/CMS directly to CACI; or perform periodic reconciliations between CWS/CMS and CACI.

The audit has shed light on the severity of the situation, but until changes are implemented “the effectiveness of CACI as a tool for protecting children is seriously hindered by inaccurate and incomplete data,” the study found.

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