These assumptions about the child welfare continuum have enormous import as they inform the nature of the interventions that are designed to improve child welfare outcomes. They drive the design of program evaluation and data collection programs. They form the backdrop for understanding how decision-making manifests at the child welfare systems level with implications for how professionals, researchers and policy makers understand disparities, assessment tools, system culture, workforce characteristics, service resources, and communities. It is time to reconsider such assumptions in the presence of the evolving data.
With nearly twenty years of census child/case-level NCANDS and AFCARS data it is now possible to explore the full range of child welfare trajectories at national and state levels. A research collaboration from the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University, the Kempe Center in Department of Pediatrics at University of Colorado School of Medicine, and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign has created and tested procedures to produce a linked data resource combining the histories of children in the two national data sets. Linkages by the common child identifier and other data cleaning procedures allow for combining CPS responses to reported maltreatment cases (NCANDS) with spells in out of home care (AFCARS) at the child and family level.
An example use of the data is to examine the assumption that out of home care events are associated with maltreatment responses. Initial estimates are that between 4% and 15% of children in care have no record of a CPS response, varying from less than 3% to more than 40% across states. Developing explanations for children with no maltreatment response has implications for system level outcomes related to permanency.
We propose to conduct a roundtable discussion to initiate a collaborative research process regarding multi-year linked analysis that will form a scaffold to develop a clearer understanding of the child welfare continuum, the nature of trajectories in the system, and the jurisdictional variability in the continuum. The goal of this proposed roundtable is to invite other researchers to join in formulating an open-source approach to further development of this resource.