Compendium of Measures and Data Sources: Understanding Judicial Decision-Making and Hearing Quality in Child Welfare

Publication Date: July 20, 2021
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  • Published: 2021


The child welfare court process is intended to help protect abused and neglected children, encourage family stability, support child well-being, and provide children who enter the foster care system with a safe and permanent living situation when they exit. Judges presiding over child abuse and neglect cases are required by federal and state law to make timely decisions to help the child move to a permanent home as quickly as possible. These decisions, made during a series of hearings, must ensure the child’s safety, well-being, and timely permanency. The Compendium of Measures and Data Sources (Compendium) summarizes the types and range of measures (i.e., specific research tools/instruments like interviews and surveys used to collect data) and publicly available data sources used to better understand judicial decision-making and hearing quality in child welfare. This is an emerging area of research which is reflected in the information available about each measure (e.g., few measures reported psychometric information).


The purpose of the Compendium is to summarize information about the types and range of measures and data sources used to study judicial decision-making and hearing quality in child welfare cases. The information is designed to be useful to researchers and child welfare court practitioners alike by helping to inform decisions about how to measure hearing quality and judicial decision-making for research, evaluation, practice improvement, and policy-related purposes. Finally, the Compendium aims to highlight areas in this emerging field where there is a lack of information on measures and publicly available data sources.

Key Findings and Highlights

Forty-nine measures and 13 data sources are included in the Compendium. The Compendium is organized into six parts.

  1. Table of Measures by Measurement Strategy and Component Measured. This list shows which measures are available for each component (e.g., judicial characteristics, judicial decision-making, and hearing quality) and measurement strategy. Measurement strategy, for this table, is defined as the type of data collection strategy for which the measure is designed (e.g., court observation, case file review, survey).
  2. Measures that Assess Overlapping Components. This diagram displays the number of measures of judicial characteristics, judicial decision-making, and hearing quality and the number of instances where measures assess one or more of these components.  
  3. Measure Profiles. The profiles provide detailed information about each measure. Once users have identified the set of components and related measures of interest, the profiles can be used to learn more about each measure to select the best fit for judicial decision-making and hearing quality assessments. Throughout the Compendium, measure names are linked. Clicking on the title will navigate the reader to the measure profile.
  4. Toolkit of Court Performance Measures in Child Abuse and Neglect Cases. This section highlights a toolkit of court performance measures for child welfare cases.
  5. Data Sources Table. The Data Sources Table includes information about currently available datasets or data dashboards that may be useful in assessing the identified key components related to judicial decision-making and hearing quality and their relationship to child welfare case outcomes. There is a link in the table to get more information about the data, including how to directly access or request access to the dataset.
  6. Appendix of Measures. The Appendix includes copies of all available measures if the corresponding author or organization gave permission for a reprint. The formatting of the instruments may vary slightly from their original use if they have been recreated in Word format for inclusion. If a measure has a full copy it is noted in the Profile with a link to the complete instrument.


Six strategies were used to identify the measures.

  1. Review of studies identified from a comprehensive literature review
  2. Materials identified during the literature review that were not studies, but offered potentially useful measures
  3. Inquiries to the field through the electronic OPRE newsletter
  4. Referrals by expert consultants and OPRE
  5. Materials already known to the project team
  6. Search of literature in other relevant fields including juvenile justice, family court, and domestic violence.

This process identified 121 articles for review. From these, the team identified 49 measures to include in the Compendium. 

Any databases discussed in an article included in the literature review were identified for possible inclusion in the Data Sources Table. We also did a web search for national and state child welfare court related databases or data dashboards.  If a database or data dashboard included variables related to key components of judicial decision-making, hearing quality, and case outcomes and was publicly available, then it was included in the Data Sources Table. We identified 13 data sources to include in the Compendium.


Summers, A., Gatowski, S., Fromknecht, A., & Trowbridge, S. (2021). Compendium of measures and data sources: Understanding judicial decision-making and hearing quality in child welfare (OPRE Report 2021-95). Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.