National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW), 1997-2014

Project Overview

The National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW) is a nationally representative, longitudinal survey of children and families who have been the subjects of investigation by Child Protective Services.  There have been two cohorts of children enrolled in the survey, which makes available data drawn from first-hand reports from children, parents, and other caregivers, as well as reports from caseworkers, teachers, and data from administrative records.  NSCAW examines child and family well-being outcomes in detail and seeks to relate those outcomes to experience with the child welfare system and to family characteristics, community environment, and other factors.

The NSCAW makes available nationally representative longitudinal data drawn from first-hand reports from children, parents, and other caregivers, as well as reports from caseworkers, teachers, and data from administrative records. Moreover, NSCAW is the first national study that examines child and family well-being outcomes in detail and seeks to relate those outcomes to their experience with the child welfare system and to family characteristics, community environment, and other factors. The study describes the child welfare system and the experiences of children and families who come in contact with the system. It will increase the knowledge needed to support service, program, and policy planning.

The study addresses crucial program, practice, and policy issues in the areas of dynamics of the child welfare system, and outcomes for children and families. Within these areas, the major research questions the study addresses include:

  • Who are the children and families who come into contact with the child welfare system?
    • What are their backgrounds and characteristics? What are their prior histories? What problems and strengths do they bring?
    • How do the characteristics, experiences, and needs of children and families differ by the ways they come into contact with the system? What effects do State and agency policies and programs have on the characteristics of those who enter the system?
  • What pathways and services do children and families experience while in the child welfare system?
  • What placements and services do they experience while they are in the child welfare system?
  • What determines the different pathways, placements, and services they experience?
  • How do child welfare services interact with other services and supports for children and families involved with the child welfare system?
  • How do the children and families change during the time they are in contact with the child welfare system and after they leave the system?
  • How do system, child, family, community and other factors affect child and family functioning? How do these factors affect subsequent welfare system involvement?
  • What are the short- and longer-term effects for these children and families?

In the short term, the study will (1) describe the children and families who come into contact with the child welfare system, and (2) examine child and family risk factors, service needs, and services received. In the longer term, the study will (1) describe the child welfare system and the experience of children and families involved in the system; (2) examine outcomes for these children and families; and (3) describe the interaction of the child welfare system and services with other service systems.

The point of contact is Mary Bruce Webb.

Related Projects and Papers

Mental Health Analyses

In May 1999, the Child and Adolescent Services Research Center at San Diego Children's Hospital, in collaboration with Duke University, the University of Pittsburgh, and Research Triangle Institute, received a five-year grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to examine the impact of placement types and changes in the child welfare system on provision of mental health services to children, within the context of state and regional variation in mental health care policies, structure and fiscal support. The resulting "Caring for Children in Child Welfare" (CCCW) project is a collaboration with NSCAW that will provide for a more detailed analysis of mental health needs and service utilization for the child welfare population, as well as contextual variables that influence children's access to mental health services. More information on this project can be found at http://www.casrc.org/projects/completed/cccw.html


Data Collection Schedule

There have been two cohorts of children included in NSCAW. For the first cohort, the first round of field data collection began in Fall 1999. Sampling was conducted monthly over a 15-month period, and baseline data collection was completed in April of 2001. Four rounds of follow-up data collection were completed—at 12 months, 18 months, and 36 months, and 60 to 72 months post-baseline. NSCAW II was begun in 2008, and one follow-up has been completed, at 18 months post-baseline. A 36-month follow-up began in the summer of 2011.

Both children who remain in the system and those who leave the system are followed.

Sample

NSCAW I: The sample, which represents the population of children and families that enter the child welfare system, includes more than 5,501 children (ages 0 to 14) from 97 child welfare agencies nationwide. The sample was drawn from cases investigated/assessed by local child protective services (CPS) agencies, and includes both opened and unopened cases. It includes both children being served in their homes and those in out-of-home care. The sample was selected from children and families who entered the child welfare system within a 15-month period (Oct. 1999-Dec. 2000), and was designed to allow in-depth analyses of subgroups of special interest (e.g., young children or adolescents in foster care) while providing national estimates for the full population of children and families entering the system. The core sample is supplemented by a sample of 727 children who have been in foster care for a longer period, to allow additional analysis of issues related to this group.

NSCAW II: The design for NSCAW II closely replicated the sampling strategy for the core sample of NSCAW I, and selected children and families who entered the child welfare system between February 2008 and April 2009. NSCAW II includes 5,873 children ranging from birth to 17.5 years old at the time of sampling, sampled from 83 counties nationwide. There is no supplemental sample in NSCAW II.

Data Availability

After being stripped of all identifying information, data sets from the NSCAW will be made available to the larger research and policy community to encourage secondary analysis that will support additional research and timely policy decisions. The study is expected to stimulate research activities that go well beyond the scope of this project. The data files will be made available within a few months after the completion of each annual round of data collection; all data from NSCAW I, and baseline data from NSCAW II have been archived at the National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect at Cornell University (http://www.ndacan.cornell.edu). Data from the 18-month follow-up of NSCAW II are expected to be available during the summer of 2011.

Project Team

The study is being conducted through a contract with Research Triangle Institute, Walter R. MacDonald Associates, and Caliber Associates. The Federal Project Officer (FPO) is Mary Bruce Webb, Ph.D., of the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation.

1Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, Sec. 429A, National Random Sample Study of Child Welfare (PL No.104-193).

  • NSCAW, No. 21: Disconnected Youth Involved in Child Welfare

    Published: October 28, 2014

    This is the 21st in a series of National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW) briefs focused on children who have come in contact with the child welfare system. This brief looks specifically at a subgroup of youth who have been identified as disconnected youth, defined here as 16- to 24-year-olds who are not in school and not employed three years after being reported as a victim of child maltreatment.  The brief reviews characteristics of youth identified as disconnected, along...

  • NSCAW Child Well-Being Spotlight: Teenage Girls in the Child Welfare System Report High Rates of Risky Sexual Activity and Pregnancy

    Published: July 8, 2014

    This National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW) spotlight describes the high rates of risky sexual activity and pregnancy among teenage girls in the second cohort of NSCAW (NSCAW II).  According to data from the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW), 16.8% of girls ages 14-17, and 45.1% of girls ages 18-20, had experienced at least one pregnancy...

  • NSCAW Child Well-Being Spotlight: Mothers of Children Reported for Maltreatment Show Small Decline in Domestic Violence, but No Improvement in Service Access

    Published: July 8, 2014

    This National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW) spotlight reports that there has been a small decline in domestic violence reported by mothers of children across the two NSCAW cohorts (28.9% in NSCAW I, vs. 24.7% in NSCAW II), but no change in service access (about 15% of mothers in both cohorts received domestic violence services)...

  • NSCAW II Wave 3 Report: Wave 3 Tables

    Published: June 27, 2014

    The National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW) is a nationally representative, longitudinal survey of children who were the subjects of child maltreatment investigation.  At Wave 3, 36 months after the maltreatment report that brought them into the study, the children were 2-20 years old.  These Wave 3 tables provide descriptive information about the children’s characteristics and functioning, their service needs and service utilization, and their...

  • NSCAW, No. 19: Risk of Long-term Foster Care Report

    Published: September 17, 2013

    After children spend 12 to 18 continuous months in foster care, their chances of leaving foster care decrease rapidly, and once children spend 36 to 42 continuous months in foster care, their chances of leaving foster care are extremely low. These were findings from the analysis of several years of data from the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW) to examine the risk of remaining in long-term foster care.  The research brief focuses on the following questions...

  • National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW II) Wave 2 Child Permanency Report

    Published: August 27, 2013

    Within 18 months after the close of a Child Protective Services investigation, 22.3% of a nationally representative sample were placed out of home, according to this report, which summarizes permanency outcomes for children at Wave 2 of NSCAW II.  NSCAW II is a longitudinal study intended to answer a range of fundamental questions about the functioning, service needs, and service use of children who come in contact with the child welfare system. The study examines the well-being of...

  • National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW), No. 20: Adverse Child Experiences in NSCAW

    Published: August 8, 2013

    More than half of the children in the NSCAW II sample report four or more adverse childhood experiences.  This finding is from a brief that uses the second cohort of the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW II) to examine rates of adverse childhood experiences among children who have been reported for maltreatment to the child welfare system.  It also compares this sample’s adverse experiences to those reported in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control...

  • NSCAW II Wave 2 Report: Child Safety

    Published: March 20, 2013

    About one fifth of children are reported for maltreatment again within 18 months of an investigation by child...

  • NSCAW II Wave 2 Report: Children and Families who Receive Child Welfare Services

    Published: March 20, 2013

    About half of children and families received child welfare services during 18 months following a child protective...

  • NSCAW Child Well-Being Spotlight: More than One Quarter of Children Placed Out of Home Experience Placement Disruption in the First 18 Months After a Maltreatment Investigation

    Published: March 4, 2013

    According to data from the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW), 22.3% of children in families...

More Reports on this Project