The Well-Being of Children in the Child Welfare System: An Analysis of the Second National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW II)

Children involved in the child welfare system — whether they receive in-home services or out-of-home placement — have more developmental challenges than the general population, according to this report.

This analysis of the second National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW II) data demonstrates that well-being issues are most acute with the youngest children. Those in the infant and toddler age range who come in contact with a child welfare department were sometimes twice as likely as the general population to suffer from emotional problems.

“Children who have come to the attention of child welfare through a CPS investigation consistently fare worse than the general population,” note the report’s authors.

Co-authored by Erin J. Maher and Adam Darnell of Casey Family Programs and John Landsverk and Jinjin Zhang of the Oregon Social Learning Center and Rady Children’s Hospital, the report suggests that children who are in contact with the child welfare system need support that focuses specifically on well-being through developmentally appropriate services and interventions.

“This analysis confirms the consistent finding that children in foster care tend to have more developmental challenges than other children. However, what this study adds is that those challenges are not just experienced by children in out-of-home care,” Maher says. “All children who are subject to a child protection investigation, whether their families receive services or not, may have developmental needs that are not being addressed.”

For the analysis, researchers focused on children in three groups:

  • Children not removed from the home whose families are receiving in-home services
  • Children not removed from the home whose families are not receiving in-home services
  • Children removed from their home and placed with relatives, in foster care, or in group care

The child protection investigation “may be an opening” for child-serving systems to provide preventive and therapeutic services to at-risk children and their families, the report concludes.


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