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April 2022Vol. 23, No. 3Linking Administrative Data to Improve the Understanding of Child Maltreatment

Adverse events in childhood have lifelong impacts that can reverberate across generations. Improving the accuracy of determining the incidence and prevalence child maltreatment is critical to improving prevention and intervention efforts and reducing the negative lifetime impacts. A study funded by the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation within the Administration for Children and Families within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services examined how linking administrative data may help. Local, state, and federal administrative records from child welfare, health, social services, education, public safety, and other agencies can be leveraged to provide a more holistic view of the true incidence of maltreatment and allow for more effective targeting of prevention and intervention resources. The project team conducted a feasibility study to see which promising practices were most effective by identifying five selected sites with experience using administrative data linkages to examine child maltreatment incidence.

Sites were expected to engage in five activities while participating in the study:

  • Develop research questions and explore data partnerships
  • Share and access data
  • Prepare datasets and complete data linkages
  • Conduct analyses to answer research questions
  • Report the results of their research
The study identified promising practices for each of these project activities and considered the surrounding contextual and organizational factors—such as child welfare system structures, child welfare policies and definitions, the legal and policy contexts for data use, and the existing data infrastructure—and how they benefited or impeded the participating sites. The enhanced data linkages ultimately resulted in every site being able to get new information about child maltreatment incidence and prevalence. 
Administrative data linkages can create new knowledge about child welfare that would not be available otherwise or that would require substantial amounts of time and resources to produce using other data-collection methods and data sources. The experiences of the sites offer evidence that enhancing administrative data linkages is a feasible approach to addressing high-priority questions about child maltreatment incidence and related risk and protective factors. 
Read the full report, Linking Administrative Data to Improve the Understanding of Child Maltreatment Incidence and Related Risk and Protective Factors: A Feasibility Study, for details on promising practices, including those responding to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.