Core Dataset Project: Child Welfare Service Histories. Research Questions


Linking the two systems provides answers to simple questions about the experience of individual children in the child welfare system, which in many cases have never been answered. When one lists these questions and then lists the questions for which answers are usually produced, one can more easily identify how this study differs from previous ones. It is very important to note that the “usual” questions and answers are extremely important ones for the management and operations of the child welfare system. The questions addressed in this study are posed from the perspective of the child, the child being the unit of analysis. This study’s questions are in bold below. 

What is the basic flow of children through the child welfare system? 

Usually the questions that are answered, quite independently, are:

  • How many reports of child abuse or neglect in a particular year, and;
  • How many placements are made in a particular year? 

What percentage of children in the general population have contact (investigation or service) with the child welfare system in a particular year that are not known to the child welfare system already?

Usually the question that is answered is:

  • How many reports are there per 1000 children in the population? Since children may have multiple reports within a year and across years, the reports per 1000 children rate is an inflated indicator of how many children are being reported.

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

Usually the question that is answered is:

  • How many foster care placements are made in a particular year independent of how many children actually are represented in those placements?

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

Usually the question that is answered is:

  • How many reports are substantiated? What is usually reported is the number of reports that are substantiated, not the number of children.

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?

Usually the question that is answered is:

  • How many protective custodies are taken in a particular year? Protective custodies are only one type of placement that occurs and some of these are "vacated", which means that the child actually goes home after a couple of days.

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

Usually the question that is answered is:

  • What are the reasons that children enter foster care? Since child welfare service tracking systems are separate from child protective service systems, the reason for placement that is recorded may not be the same as the allegation that originally brought the child to the attention of the child welfare system.


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