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Core Dataset Project: Child Welfare Service Histories

Publication Date

By Robert Goerge, John Van Voorhis, Lisa Sanfilippo, and Allen Harden

Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago

April 8, 1996

The focus of this study is on the key events that individual children may experience in the public child welfare service system. This report discusses the importance of this type of research, the issues that can be addressed with the information produced, an initial set of analyses addressing key questions in child welfare and an agenda for future work.

The child welfare system is split into two domains: 1) child protection, which receives and investigates reports of abuse and neglect and 2) child welfare services, which provides out-of- home care, casework and other in-home or community based services. In this report, our goal is to create indicators across the two domains by linking data from the information systems of the two domains. We also hope to find comparability among children's history patterns in both Illinois and Michigan.

The size of the population in this report is nearly 1.4 million children in Illinois and 800,000 in Michigan. Using methods to unduplicate counting across the system, these numbers are children and not events in the system. The major difference in this work compared to most other work done at the population-level, is that our unit of analysis is the child across years and not a child or a child-event within a particular year.

Main Findings

  • Despite the concern around the high numbers of children being placed in substitute care, relatively few children who come into contact with the system actually enter substitute care. In Illinois, 7% of the first contacts between 1990 and 1994 resulted in a placement, and in Michigan 4% (1990-1993). The majority of children who are placed are those with either substantiated investigations or those who enter the system without an investigation.
  • 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 found no evidence of abuse or neglect.
  • Of the children substantiated for abuse or neglect, 8.5% are placed in Michigan and almost 14% in Illinois. Fewer than one half of a percent of the children with unsubstantiated cases are placed.
  • Placement into substitute care often varies by the type of reported abuse or neglect. In both states, the children who are substantiated cases of social neglect and physical or medical neglect are the most likely to be placed in foster care (18% in IL, 12.5% in MI).
  • Placement may also differ by geographic location within states. For example, Chicago has a much greater placement rate for socially neglected children (31%) compared to the balance of Illinois (12%), and the balance of Michigan has nearly twice the placement rate for physically neglected children as Wayne County.