National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW), 1997-2013

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).

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