Core Dataset Project: Child Welfare Service Histories. Determining the comparability of the datasets & Comparing events across states


We began by selecting children who first entered the Illinois or Michigan systems in 1990 or later. Because of purging protocols, we would not be certain that we were working with complete information if we began before 1990.

Although both states’ data contained the events named in the above section, the substantive meaning of these events was not always the same. We were able to clarify these differences after studying the documentation and much interaction with state staff.

Investigation events have similar meanings in the two states. When a report of abuse/neglect is made, both Illinois and Michigan have 24 hours to begin an initial investigation. The information gathered during the investigation is evaluated to assess the risk to the child and a decision is made as to its disposition within 21 days in Michigan and 60 days in Illinois (with the possibility of a 30 day extension). In both cases, substantiation is based on risk of harm to the child.

Illinois and Michigan differ in how they code allegations associated with investigations. Illinois specifies each harm, while Michigan categorizes theirs into seven abuse and five neglect codes. In order to compare the two states, we collapsed Michigan’s codes into two abuse and two neglect categories: sexual abuse, physical abuse, physical/medical neglect, and social neglect/abandonment and used these for our analyses. (See Appendix Table 1 for allegation comparison). Because Michigan does not retain allegations for unsubstantiated investigations, we were only able to analyze allegations associated with substantiated investigations.

The significance of a child welfare case opening also differs in the two states. In Illinois, case opening marks the beginning of service provision to the child or family since no services are provided in child protection. In Michigan however, services such as counselling or substance abuse treatment ( "protective services") are provided within the child protection domain. We were able to identify these cases but since Illinois had nothing comparable, we did not include these services as events in our analyses. In light of these differences, case openings cannot be assigned the same significance.

Placement in both Illinois and Michigan refers to out of home substitute care placements.

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