NSCAW is the first national probability sample of children investigated for child maltreatment (Administration for Children and Families, 2006). The NSCAW sample was created to represent the target population as precisely as possible. The sample of 5,501 children (ages 0 to 14) was randomly selected from the families who entered the U.S. child welfare system in any of the 93 designated areas between October 1999 and December 2000. Two full waves of data collection were completed at approximately 18 and 36 months post-baseline.
These families included both open and closed cases (i.e., cases closed without ongoing services), whether or not the maltreatment was shown to have occurred (i.e., substantiated). If opened, some children in NSCAW were served in their homes and some in out-of-home care (e.g., foster care). Children were excluded from the study if a sibling had already agreed to participate in the study, if a child perpetrated the alleged maltreatment, or if the referral to Child Welfare Services was screened out (i.e., the alleged maltreatment did not meet the criteria for child abuse or neglect as defined by the state, or too little information was reported to Child Welfare Services to justify pursuit of the case).
Two major criteria were used in drawing the sub-sample employed in the analyses for this report. First, the child was required to have a finding of substantiated or high risk in their child welfare case. A finding of substantiated means the alleged maltreatment has been judged by the juvenile court to have occurred. A finding of high risk means the family has numerous risk factors for maltreatment to occur although no determination of substantiation has been made. The decision to include this group is based on evidence that case characteristics where maltreatment was substantiated do not vary from those where maltreatment was not substantiated. This phenomenon strongly suggests maltreatment probably has occurred in unsubstantiated cases, but evidentiary standards could not be met (Hussey et al., 2005; Leiter, Myers, & Zingraff, 1994). Second, to be included in the analysis, the child needed to be less than 36 months old at the time of their baseline assessment. This age range was chosen to be compatible with the age range of eligibility for Part C early intervention services.