Core Dataset Project: Child Welfare Service Histories. Background

04/08/1996

The child welfare system is split into two domains: 1) child protection, which receives and investigates reports of abuse and neglect and 2) child welfare services, which provides out-ofhome care, casework and other in-home or community based services. These two domains have been kept administratively separate at the federal, state, and local levels for at least the last 25 years. The separation is based on the belief that those investigating the occurrence of child abuse or neglect should not also be providing services, and vice versa, since it could compromise each activity, i.e. families being investigated” by one worker are less likely to be receptive to receiving help” from the same worker.

While one can argue about the effectiveness or efficiency of splitting investigative reporting and service provision functions into the two domains, a definite consequence of it has been that the experiences of children (either individually or in the aggregate) have not been well described. This is due to the fact that a linkage between the two systems, either organizationally or within the data system, has never been made. A fair amount is known within child protection from the NCANDS project about the number of children investigated, the reasons for the investigations and the percent which are substantiated. Similarly, a fair amount is known in child welfare about the number of children receiving services or placed in foster care and the outcomes of those services. But little is know about children’s combined experiences in the two domains.

Because of the separation of these two functions both in practice and in objective, separate information systems or databases have been set up to track the children and families in each area. In many states, identification numbers are also different in order to keep the two functions separate. Our work attempts to overcome the consequences associated with these administrative obstacles. This study utilizes record-matching techniques, which allow us to connect records from two different information systems at the child and family level.

Our work is in contrast to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) and the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), the efforts aimed at collecting data at the national level on maltreatment reports, and foster care and adoption, respectively. The unit of analysis in each of these is the individual event, either the report or the foster care receipt. Our unit of analysis is the child, and in some cases, where it makes sense, the family. Also, while we attempt to look at children longitudinally, over a number of years, both NCANDS and AFCARS focus on events experienced during a particular time frame, either a year or a quarter. In both of these systems, there are attempts to fully describe the event of interest, but the ability to do so is limited because of state information system design issues, which includes how new cases are identified, how data is collected, how it is maintained and the unit of analysis.

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