The feasibility study was undertaken to gather data with which to better respond to the requirements of the Adam Walsh Act. We surveyed key informants in the states to gain a better understanding of the content and operations of state registries and other repositories of information on child maltreatment perpetrators, current practices with respect to interstate inquiries regarding alleged child maltreatment perpetrators, and to solicit states' input as to their interest in participating in a voluntary national registry and the benefits and barriers they see related to their participation. Through a prevalence study we sought information to better quantify the potential benefits of a national registry of child maltreatment perpetrators, in particular by estimating the number of perpetrators nationally who have been substantiated as perpetrators of child abuse or neglect in multiple states. It is primarily in detecting such perpetrators that a national registry would have advantages beyond those of existing single state registries. Finally, a review of relevant court cases examined the legal issues that would need to be addressed in designing a national registry.
The survey of key informants was composed of three separate questionnaires. The respondent to each survey was the person designated by the state child welfare director as the most knowledgeable informant on the topic. The first questionnaire, on legal and policy issues, focused on the existing legal and/or written policy requirements regarding maintaining and sharing information on child maltreatment perpetrators and the due process protections for such persons available in the states. A second questionnaire focused on practices in sharing perpetrator information with, and requesting information on perpetrators from, other states. The third questionnaire focused on technical issues related to the structure, content, and accuracy of existing repositories of data on child maltreatment perpetrators. In addition, in all three questionnaires, respondents were asked about perceived benefits of and barriers to participating in a national registry. The attached report on the research findings of the feasibility study (Appendix 1) describes these surveys in more detail and includes an appendix with the questionnaires used to survey the states. The questionnaires were web-based and self-administered using Survey Monkey&™. The federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approved the data collection in accordance with the Paperwork Reduction Act.
The prevalence study was based on data from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS), through which annual, child-level administrative data are collected by HHS's Administration for Children and Families on children who have been the subject of a child maltreatment investigation. NCANDS data on substantiated maltreatment investigations, which includes only encrypted identifiers, was combined with information on the perpetrator's name and date of birth supplied by participating states. The goal of the prevalence study was to estimate how many perpetrators were the subject of substantiated child maltreatment investigations in more than one state. Last names were encoded to protect confidentiality and to facilitate the matching process. These matches were used to develop national estimates of interstate perpetrators, and to examine a limited set of their characteristics that are relevant for the feasibility study. National estimates were produced using a model that combines these matching results for the states that participated in the study with the U.S. Census Bureau's interstate migration estimates. The matching process was also used to shed light on the type of information that would be needed in a national registry to support accurate matching. Again, the research report of the feasibility study provides further details on the methods and findings of the prevalence study.
All states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico were recruited to participate in both components of the study over a 3-month period in the spring and early summer of 2011. A total of 38 states representing 84% of the U.S. population participated in one or more of the survey questionnaires. Most responded to all three questionnaires, and 36 states (though not always the same states) participated in each individual survey. For selected questions in the Legal/Policy Questionnaire, data for nonparticipating states were added based on a review of current state laws. As a result, some results from the Legal/Policy Questionnaire are based on 36 states, while others are based on information from all 52 jurisdictions surveyed. Because of the more significant response burden and, in some cases, data limitations, fewer states (22, representing 55 percent of the total U.S. population) supplied the data needed for the prevalence study. Statistical techniques were used to make national estimates based on the data from the 22 participating states.
A final component of the feasibility study was a review of relevant court cases in which aspects of states' child abuse registries have been challenged. The review included all federal cases as well as state cases decided within the past 10 years. These 31 court challenges from 17 states and the federal courts address aspects of the due process protections available for individuals identified as perpetrators in states' child abuse registries. This review informs our consideration of a due process procedure for a national registry, as required by the Adam Walsh Act.
The feasibility study was conducted under contract to HHS by Walter R. McDonald & Associates, Inc. (WRMA), a consulting firm with extensive experience with states' child maltreatment data. WRMA prepared the detailed research report that appears as Appendix 1. The American Bar Association's Center for Children and the Law, acting as a subcontractor to WRMA, provided legal expertise and developed the review of court cases and due process requirements.