Substantiated vs. Unsubstantiated
Upon completion of the investigation, the APS specialist must make a final determination regarding each allegation. Each allegation must be determined as:
- Substantiated – the greater weight of the evidence collected during the APS investigation determines that maltreatment occurred and the alleged victim meets the definition of a vulnerable adult OR
- Unsubstantiated – the evidence found during the APS investigation was insufficient to show that more likely than not maltreatment occurred
The APS specialist collects and analyzes evidence in order to:
- Determine whether a vulnerable adult has been maltreated
- Assess risk potential for future maltreatment
- Decide what services are needed
Systematic Decision-Making Process
The systemic decision-making process includes the following components:
- Dynamics & Indicators: Part of your professional responsibility is assessing the situation to determine if there are any dynamics or indicators consistent with maltreatment. As an APS specialist, you will be expected to give a professional opinion about the presence or absence of these dynamics.
- Critical Investigative Questions: Each case comes with its own set of issues that are critical to the resolution of the investigation. These issues are dictated by the information in the report and the evidence the specialist collects regarding the allegations. The critical issues, or questions, must be resolved before a findings determination can be made.
- Necessary Facts: The specialist determines what information is necessary to ensure adequate answers are obtained for the questions.
- Reliability of Information: The specialist also analyzes information to determine its reliability (or trustworthiness) and relevancy to the allegations. The amount of cross-checking required will vary based upon the:
- Nature of the report (urgent or non-urgent)
- Amount of conflicting information obtained during the investigation
- Reliability of the information provided by those interviewed
- Importance to the question at hand
- Unsupported information from an involved party
- Information from a biased source (e.g., neighbor engaged in a boundary-line dispute, ex-spouse, etc.)
- Other information which cannot be verified by a second source
- What would a reasonable (ordinary, average) and prudent person do in a similar situation?
- Is this behavior which is being considered outside the “norm?”
- By applying this standard within the context of a full range of factors, it will be easier to determine whether abuse, neglect, or exploitation occurred.
- Do not use this standard in a medical setting, as medical professionals are needed to make this determination.
- Consultation with Experts: The specialist consults with experts from other fields when needed.
- Checking for cultural biases and influences: The specialist is aware of their own biases as well as the client’s biases when conducting investigations. The bias must be controlled.
As specialists gain experience in making decisions, these components will become routine aspects of every investigation. Specialists will structure their activities to ensure they gather the information that is necessary to reach a valid determination of findings in an effective and timely manner. The specialist must organize how the evidence is weighed and consider all pertinent factors in the decision.
It is important to remember that a decision-making process will not make decisions for you. The specialist will still have to apply their own skills, experience, and professional judgment to the unique circumstances of the investigation.
Requirements for documentation in the case record are the same regardless of whether the report is determined to be substantiated or unsubstantiated.
- The record is subject to review by supervisors, program field representatives, and other staff as appropriate.
- The case record can be subpoenaed in subsequent private guardianship proceedings if the allegations investigated are pertinent to the proposed guardianship.
Assessing the Reliability of an Information Source
|1. Professional Expertise||Education, training, and experience may qualify persons (including the investigator) as experts in their field. For example, certain report allegations (e.g., subdural hematoma, malnutrition, etc.) require a medical diagnosis in order to classify the report. The physician’s diagnosis is inherently more reliable than an explanation by a person with no medical training.|
|2. Uninvolved Third Party||The more removed a person is from the individuals involved in an incident, the more likely the source is to be objective. A stranger passing by a house who sees a man physically abuse an aged person is not personally involved in the incident. Therefore, he is likely to be more objective than an involved party (e.g., a family member, the caretaker).|
|3. Eyewitness-Direct||In some situations, an eyewitness observation account by an uninvolved third party can be more reliable than a professional’s analysis. The professional is generally involved in the situation after the abuse, neglect, or exploitation occurred and must reconstruct what could have happened based on the consequences presented to him. The eyewitness, if observant, can explain exactly how the incident occurred and thereby eliminate any “guesswork” by the professional.|
Guidelines for Determining Findings
The following are principles to consider in making a decision about whether maltreatment occurred:
- The fact that a report is made does not, by itself, constitute maltreatment; it must be thoroughly investigated before that determination can be made.
- The fact that the incident which was reported did occur does not mean the report is substantiated. What occurred must constitute abuse, neglect, or exploitation as defined by statute.
- The lack of severity of the abuse, neglect, or exploitation does NOT mean the report is unsubstantiated.
- The denial by the alleged perpetrator is not acceptable as the only rationale for determining the report as unsubstantiated.
- The fact that the alleged victim denies maltreatment is not reason, by itself, to determine a report as unsubstantiated.
- The fact that the victim or other person states that maltreatment occurred does not in itself justify a decision to determine the report as substantiated.
- The inability of the alleged victim to talk, due to any reason, is not justification for determining a report as unsubstantiated.
- The inability of the alleged victim to provide information and the denial of the alleged perpetrator requires that the specialist seek corroborative information through collateral contacts in order to resolve the conflict between the allegations of the report and the denial of the alleged perpetrator.
- The lack of bruises, marks, or other physical injuries is not by itself justification for determining a report as unsubstantiated.
- The existence of an injury or a mark does not automatically constitute a substantiated report. The specialist must determine if the injury or mark occurred as a result of abuse or neglect.
- Hostility or cooperation on the part of the alleged perpetrator is not a deciding factor in determining reports.
- A person can abuse, neglect, or exploit a vulnerable adult without “intending” to do harm.
There are some cases when it is difficult to make a findings determination. For those cases, the specialist can:
- Review the guidelines for determining findings.
- Review indicators to see if any were missed.
- Review definitions of abuse, neglect, and exploitation.
- Review the risk factors for the client.
- Staff the case with your supervisor or designee.
- Present the case at a staff meeting: let other workers ask questions and give suggestions.
- Staff the case with State Office APS.
|Degree of Certainty||Standard of Burden of Proof||Substantiation Decision|
|75%||Clear and Convincing||Substantiated|
|51%||Preponderance of Evidence||Substantiated|
|Less than 50%||No Credible Evidence||Unsubstantiated|