Core Dataset Project: Child Welfare Service Histories. Findings


Structure of the answer to each question

Each of the sections will discuss a comparison of Illinois and Michigan - not only the numbers, but the different ways in which practice and policy affect the experiences of children. The answer to the question will come first. We will study children and families who came into contact with the system for the first time from 1990 to 1994 (trend). We will compare the major urban area (Chicago in Illinois, Wayne County in Michigan) to the balance of the state. We will also analyze the sequences by differences in initial allegation type (sexual abuse, physical/medial neglect, social neglect/abandonment, other abuse). Subsequent to the statistics, there will be a short discussion of policy and practice issues.

What percentage of children in the general population have substantiated abuse or neglect allegations for the first time in a particular year?

We find that 0.91% in Illinois and 0.85% in Michigan of the children 0-19 years of age had substantiated abuse or neglect allegations for the first time in 19901. When one compares the major urban area and the balance of the state, a different picture emerges. In Chicago, 1.52% of the children in 1990 were a newly substantiated case of child abuse or neglect, while only 0.72% of the children in the balance of Illinois fell into this category. Thus, twice as many children are being substantiated in Chicago compared to the balance of Illinois. However, in Michigan the difference is much less, with 0.92% of the children in Wayne County and 0.81% of the children in the balance of Michigan being a newly substantiated case in 1990.


One must look to the child protective side of the child welfare system for possible explanations of the difference between Chicago and other three regions (balance of Illinois, Wayne County and balance of Michigan. Possible explanations include a greater maltreatment in certain sub-populations (Chicago) and an environment of more surveillance and reporting by reporters, (police, medical personnel, teachers and neighbors) with greater pressures to substantiate allegations of abuse and neglect.

Given that the socioeconomic and demographic characteristics of Chicago and Wayne County are so similar, it is unlikely that there is greater maltreatment in Chicago. Thus, one must further investigate the possibility that the environment is the cause of this must be studied further. Such a study is beyond the scope of this report. However, in Illinois, particularly in Chicago, a great deal of media attention is paid to the issues of child abuse and neglect and foster care. (A comparative study of media attention has never been done, thus a statistical analysis of media attention is not available.) It may be that public vigilance is greater in Illinois, particularly in Chicago, resulting in more media coverage. Illinois medical personnel are also required to report all confirmed cases of illegal substances in a child’s urine. All of these substance-exposed infant cases are substantiated cases of neglect.

Finally, Michigan’s AFDC benefits are clearly more generous than that of Illinois’s and may account for a large fraction of the difference since most experts believe that many families come to the attention of the child welfare system because of reasons associated with poverty. While difficult to prove without a more rigorous experimental design, more generous benefits may act on the margin to keep certain families from being reported and substantiated for child maltreatment. It may be that this effect is different in Chicago and the balance of Illinois.


Of children who have contact with the child welfare system, how many are placed into foster care?

While there is great concern around the high numbers of children being placed, in actuality, a small percentage of the children who come in contact with the child welfare system enter substitute care.A greater percentage of children who have contact with the child welfare system in Illinois are placed into foster care than those in Michigan (See Tables 1 and 2). Over 7% of all contacts with the child welfare system in Illinois resulted in foster care placements during the period from 1990 to 1994. In Michigan between 1990 and 1993, almost 4% of all children with initial contacts resulted in foster care placements. When the two states are compared by year, Illinois’ figures are 35% higher in 1990 and more that 100% higher in 1993.

Since the follow-up periods varied in each of the states, we controlled for this by simply looking at what happened one year after the first contact (See Tables 3 and 4). Between 70 and 80% of all placements we found in the longer follow-up periods occur within one year of the time of the initial contact. When using this period of time, we still find that the placement rate is 30% (in 1990) to 80% (in 1993) higher in Illinois.

Table 1.

Percent of First Contacts Placed: Illinois Full Histories

  1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 Grand Total
Illinois 7.7% 8.2% 7.4% 7.4% 6.8% 7.5%
Chicago 11.1% 12.7% 11.3% 10.7% 10.0% 11.1%
Balance of Illinois 5.7% 5.9% 5.4% 5.6% 5.0% 5.5%


Table 2.

Percent of First Contacts Placed: Michigan Full Histories

  1990 1991 1992 1993 Grand Total
Michigan 5.7% 5.0% 3.7% 2.8% 3.7%
Wayne 5.1% 4.6% 3.2% 2.4% 3.2%
Balance of Michigan 5.9% 5.1% 3.9% 3.0% 3.9%

This one-year follow-up period also allows us to study the trends within each state. In Michigan, the percentage of children being placed is decreasing, while in Illinois, the placement rate within one year of initial contact increased through 1994.

Wayne County, which has slightly over a quarter of the initial contacts in the state during this period, has slightly lower one-year placement rates than the balance of the Michigan. Chicago, with about a third of Illinois’ first contacts, has a one-year placement rate 80% greater than that of the balance of Illinois. Chicago’s rate is also growing and driving the increase in the entire state. It grew from 7% in 1990 to 10% in 1994, with the 1994 figure certain to increase because of a censored follow-up period for the 1994 cohort of children with initial contacts.

As one can see from Figures 3 and 4, the majority of the children placed are those with either substantiated investigations or those who enter the system without an investigation.

Table 3.

Percent of First Contacts Placed One Year Histories

  1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 Grand Total
Illinois 5.5% 6.2% 5.9% 6.7% 6.8% 6.2%
Chicago 7.0% 9.3% 8.4% 9.6% 10.0% 8.9%
Balance of Illinois 4.5% 4.6% 4.5% 5.2% 5.0% 4.8%


Figure 4a. MICHIGAN One Year Histories 1990-1993

figure 4a


Figure 3a. ILLINOIS One Year Histories 1990-1994

figure 3a


More about the substantiated rates is discussed in the following section.

From 1990 to 1994, one fifth to one quarter of those children entering placement do so without initially experiencing an abuse or neglect investigation. The numbers in Michigan have been decreasing, while in Illinois there has been a slight increase. These children have entered placement without any previously substantiated case of abuse or neglect. These children, often put in the custody of the child welfare agency by juvenile courts to avoid incarceration or because of the need for children to live in foster care because of a parent’s inability to care for them because of illness, death or incarceration, do account for a high percentage of the foster care entry.


Until both the child protection data and child welfare services data were combined, it was not possible to determine how many children came to the attention of the entire child welfare services domain for the first time in a particular year and who were not previously known to the system and then placed into foster care. This is because one never knew whether or not a child’s entry into one domain in a particular year had been preceded by an entry into the other domain. With a longitudinal design and data, one is able to properly classify children into their actual entry cohorts.

The placement figures are very consistent with the findings of the Multistate Foster Care Data Archive results, where the incidence rates of first entry to foster care for the entire population of children is from 15 to 75% greater in Illinois compared to Michigan from 1990 to 1993.

The issue of children who enter foster care without a child abuse or neglect report may be one that will become more important in the near future. These children are often not considered in discussions of the child welfare population, which has been dominated by the issues of child abuse and child neglect. Because of the increasing numbers of children entering foster care in Illinois, as well as the proportion, the Illinois legislature has passed legislation (implemented in July 1995) to exclude those children who are over 13 and have been adjudicated as being delinquent. While it is still unclear as to whether or not the legislation will have an actual effect on practice, it certainly symbolizes an effort (as may the decrease in Michigan), to remove the children without a substantiated report of abuse or neglect from the foster care population.

Of those children who are investigated, what percentage are substantiated?

In both states, about two-thirds of the children who have first contacts with the state never experience a substantiated allegation of abuse or neglect in their first contact or any subsequent contact during the period of our study . In two-thirds of the cases, investigators do not find evidence of abuse or neglect (See Table 4).

Table 5. First Contact Types by Finding Illinois & Michigan


Investigation Finding 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994
  Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
Substantiated 27,095 32.7% 29,073 33.0% 31,100 33.3% 31,400 34.0% 30,505 32.3%
Unsubstantiated 55,807 67.3% 58,906 67.0% 62,249 66.7% 61,017 66.0% 63,893 67.7%







Investigation Finding 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994
  Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
Substantiated 10,577 33.8% 10,684 35.8% 11,694 36.1% 11,649 35.9% 11,685 34.0%
Unsubstantiated 20,701 66.2% 19,197 64.2% 20,659% 63.9% 20,835% 64.1% 22,681 66.0%


Balance Of Illinois

 Investigation Finding 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994
  Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
Substantiated 16,538 32.0% 18,389 31.7% 19,406 31.8% 19,751 33.0% 18,820 31.3%
Unsubstantiated 35,106 68.0% 39,709 68.3% 41,590 68.2% 40,182 67.0% 41,212 68.7%



Investigation Finding 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994
  Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
Substantiated 19,122 36.0% 19,029 34.0% 15,624 27.9% 13,277 23.7% 5,701 16.5%
Unsubstantiated 33,990 63.1% 34,842 62.3% 40,320 72.1% 42,854 76.3% 28,780 83.5%


Wayne County

 Investigation Finding 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994
  Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
Substantiated 4,898 37.1% 5,304 36.8% 4,173 26.2% 3,372 20.1% 1,236 11.6%
Unsubstantiated 8,304 62.9% 9,109 63.2% 11,770 73.8% 13,440 79.9% 9,381 88.4%


Balance Of Michigan

Investigation Finding 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994
  Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
Substantiated 14,224 35.6% 13,725 34.8% 11,451 28.6% 9,905 25.2% 4,465 18.7%
Unsubstantiated 25,686 64.4% 25,733 65.2% 28,550 71.4% 29,414 74.8% 19,399 81.3%

* Michigan CPS data complete only through August of 1994

Over the study period, the percent of initial contacts in a year that are substantiated remains remarkably consistent in Illinois. The differences between Chicago and the balance of Illinois are small. In Michigan, while the 1990 and 1991 substantiation rates were very similar to Illinois’s, 1992 and 1993 each showed a large decrease (more than 15%) from the earlier years, so that now only 25% of investigations are substantiated. We assume this was due to the policy requiring investigators to notify perpetrators and the investigators’ behavior in reaction to this policy. The decrease that we see statewide is more pronounced in Wayne County (more than 25% decrease) than in the balance of Michigan, which suggests that the impact of the policy change mentioned above on investigatory practice is less in the balance of Michigan that in Wayne County.


Since, as will be discussed below, less than one percent of children’s reports that are unsubstantiated receive foster care, this is obviously a key gate-keeping mechanism. In all of these cases, the child welfare agency has sent an investigator to these homes and determines that there is no credible evidence for the substantiation of abuse or neglect.

If we had only studied 1990 and 1991, we would have put forward a hypothesis that a 33% substantiation percentage can be expected in these states and perhaps this might be a standard by which other states could gauge themselves. However, given the significant decrease in Michigan in 1992 and 1993, we now see how quickly this statistic can change due to a policy change. While we again have not done a study that proves that the decrease in substantiation rate is due to the change in notification of the perpetrator, few other types of changes (e.g. socioeconomic ones) could have such a great effect.

Of children who are investigated for abuse or neglect, how many are placed in foster care and how does it vary by whether or not the report is substantiated?

Statewide in Michigan, 8.5% of those children substantiated are placed in foster care, while in Illinois nearly 14% are placed, a nearly two-thirds larger placement rate (See Table 6). Less than half a percent of children with unsubstantiated cases are placed. Within states, Wayne County has a slightly lower placement rate than the balance of Michigan, while Chicago’s placement for substantiated cases is nearly twice that of the balance of Illinois.


Given the somewhat higher substantiation rate in Illinois than in Michigan over this period of time, one might expect a lower percentage of placement for those substantiated in Illinois. This is because one might expect the severity of cases in Michigan to be greater, all else being equal. However, this is not the case. More children come to the attention of the child welfare system in Illinois, more are substantiated out of those that come to the attention and more are placed of those who are substantiated. The distribution of sequences that children experience in Illinois is certainly skewed toward more children being substantiated and placed.

Table 6. Percent of Children Investigated for Abuse/Neglect Placed in Foster Care

  Illinois 1990-1994 Michigan 1990-1993
  Total Chicago Balance Total Chicago Balance
Substantiated 13.9% 19.0% 10.8% 8.5% 7.1% 9.0%
Unsubstantiated 0.2% 0.3% 0.2% 0.3% 0.4% 0.2%

* We do not have Michigan foster care placement data for 1994

How does placement into foster care vary by the type of initial abuse or neglect allegation?

In both states, the children who are substantiated cases of social neglect and physical or medical neglect are most likely to be placed in foster care (18% in IL, 12.5% in MI; see Table 7). When one compares the major urban area with the balance of the state, significant differences are seen. Chicago has a much greater placement rate for socially neglected children (31% in Chicago to 12% in the balance of the state). The balance of Michigan has nearly twice the placement rate for physically neglected children as Wayne County.

Table 7. Placement By Allegation Type For Substantiated Investigations Illinois & Michigan


  No Allegation Sexual Abuse Physical Abuse Phys/Med Neglect Social Neglect
Placed 4.2% 7.8% 16.1% 17.9% 18.9%
Not Placed 95.8% 92.2% 83.9% 82.1% 81.1%



  No Allegation Sexual Abuse Physical Abuse Phys/Med Neglect Social Neglect
Placed 6.4% 10.0% 24.7% 17.0% 31.0%
Not Placed 93.6% 90.0% 75.3% 83.0% 69.0%


Balance Of Illinois

  No Allegation Sexual Abuse Physical Abuse Phys/Med Neglect Social Neglect
Placed 2.6% 7.2% 13.0% 19.1% 11.6%
Not Placed 97.4% 92.8% 87.0% 80.9% 88.4%



  No Allegation Sexual Abuse Physical Abuse Phys/Med Neglect Social Neglect
Placed 4.0% 5.8% 8.2% 12.5% 12.5%
Not Placed 96.0% 94.2% 91.8% 87.5% 87.5%



  No Allegation Sexual Abuse Physical Abuse Phys/Med Neglect Social Neglect
Placed 2.9% 4.5% 8.2% 8.7% 13.2%
Not Placed 97.1% 95.5% 91.8% 91.3% 86.8


Balance Of Michigan

  No Allegation Sexual Abuse Physical Abuse Phys/Med Neglect Social Neglect
Placed 4.4% 6.0% 8.1% 15.0% 12.4%
Not Placed 95.6% 94.0% 91.9% 85.0% 87.6%

Except for those children who do not have a specific allegation, in both Illinois and Michigan the lowest percentage placed are those children substantiated as being sexually abused. The placement rate for sexually abused children is low because, often, the perpetrator has been removed from the family’s home as the result of an arrest or a court order.

Appendix Tables 1, 2a-2c, and 3a-3c describe the allegation classification, and provide more detail on the relationship between initial allegations and substantiation.


The difference in the placement rate between Chicago and the balance of state in Illinois is likely the population that enters kinship care in Chicago. Significant analysis of this issue has taken place in Illinois recently and it has been found that a great proportion of the children entering care are those who are reported by their grandparent for being abandoned by their parent. Recent legislation aimed at attempting to provide permanency for these children with relatives has been passed in Illinois in an attempt to address what some think is an inappropriate use of the child protective system.

1 We use 1990 because the decennial Census figures are available for that year, making the
calculations most accurate.

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