• February 2013
  • Vol. 14, No. 1

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Tracking Child Maltreatment Data

Recent child welfare data suggest that child maltreatment may be on the decline; however, because child protective services (CPS) agencies are able to report only maltreatment cases brought to their attention, the actual number of children suffering from abuse and neglect may be higher. A fall 2012 Evidence to Action Brief by PolicyLab at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia provides an overview of the data collection sources and systems in place to capture child maltreatment figures; discusses the benefits of adopting a surveillance system for tracking trends; and outlines several strategies, with State examples, for improving this method of information gathering.

Surveillance systems collect data from multiple sources. For example, the authors note that surveillance systems are commonly used for population health issues such as seasonal influenza. Together, separate organizations contribute data that inform prevention initiatives, public awareness campaigns, and response efforts. With respect to child abuse and neglect, the information gathered by multiple sources—both CPS and related agencies—would provide a varied and more comprehensive picture of the prevalence of child maltreatment. While CPS data are a valuable source of information, using this source exclusively presents limitations; the incidence of child maltreatment may also be gleaned from hospital administrative, death certificate, law enforcement, and other survey and multisource data.

For example, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funded an initiative to link case-based data on child fatalities in California, Michigan, and Rhode Island. The surveillance program aimed to identify children who died from abuse or neglect, which are deaths that often are underreported and undercounted. By linking more than one data source, such as child welfare agency data, death certificates, medical examiner records, child death review teams, and crime reports, the States discovered more than 90 percent of child maltreatment deaths in their jurisdictions.

A surveillance system that captures reliable, population-level data would enable child welfare administrators and other stakeholders to better understand the prevalence of maltreatment in their communities. It also would help agencies better guide the policy and practice developments needed to effectively respond to the needs of and improve outcomes for children and families.

Tracking Child Abuse and Neglect: The Role of Multiple Data Sources in Improving Child Safety, by Sheyla P. Medina, Katherine Sell, Jane Kavanagh, Cara Curtis, and Joanne N. Wood, is available on the PolicyLab website:

http://policylab.us/images/pdf/PolicyLab_Brief_C5.pdf (592 KB)

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