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FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

What law mandates the NIS-4?
What information will the NIS-4 provide?
Who is conducting the NIS-4?
How does the NIS-4 differ from other studies on child abuse and neglect?
How will the data be used?
What about confidentiality?
What kinds of situations are included in the NIS-4?

What law mandates the NIS-4?

The NIS-4 is mandated by the Keeping Children and Families Safe Act of 2003 (Public Law 108-36). This legislation directs the DHHS Secretary to measure the incidence and prevalence of child maltreatment by a wide array of demographic characteristics, such as age, sex, race, family structure, household relationship (including the living arrangement of the resident parent and family size), school enrollment and education attainment, disability, grandparents as caregivers, labor force status, work status in previous year, and income in previous year.

What information will the NIS-4 provide?

The NIS-4 will produce reliable national estimates of the current incidence of child abuse and neglect and of its distribution and severity. Information from the NIS-4 will be compared with data obtained from the earlier studies, the NIS-1, conducted in 1979-80; the NIS-2, conducted in 1986; and the NIS-3 conducted in 1993 to determine how the incidence and nature of child abuse and neglect has changed. The information will aid in planning effective child abuse and neglect treatment and prevention programs.

Who is conducting the NIS-4?

The Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE) in the Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), issued Contract No. GS23F9144H to Westat to conduct the NIS-4. Westat is a large, employee-owned research company headquartered in Rockville, MD. Westat also conducted all three previous NIS cycles for DHHS. Westat will be assisted in the NIS-4 work by Walter R. McDonald and Associates (WRMA).

How does the NIS-4 differ from other studies on child abuse and neglect?

The NIS-4 is unique in that it goes beyond the abused and neglected children who come to the attention of the Child Protective Services (CPS) system. In contrast to other studies, such as the National Data System on Child Abuse and Neglect (NCANDS), the NIS design assumes that the children seen by CPS represent only the “tip of the iceberg.” This conceptual framework guides the NIS approach. Following the implications of its assumption, the NIS estimates the scope of the maltreated child population by combining information about reported cases with data on maltreated children identified by professionals who encounter them during the normal course of their work in a wide range of agencies in representative communities. These professionals, called “sentinels,” are selected from qualifying staff in a broad array of community agencies. They are asked to remain on the lookout for children they believe are maltreated during the study period. Children identified by sentinels and those whose alleged maltreatment is investigated by CPS during the same period are evaluated against standardized definitions and only children who meet the study standards are used to develop the study estimates. The study estimates are couched in terms of numbers of maltreated children, with data unduplicated so a given child is counted only once.

How will the data be used?

When all the data have been collected, Westat's research staff will pool the information received from all study counties and produce an overall unduplicated "count" of the number of children who were known or suspected to have been abused or neglected during the study period.

Cases that fit the study's standardized definitions of abuse and neglect will then be aggregated and weighted to produce national estimates of the frequency of maltreatment overall, and for different forms of maltreatment, different age groups, and so on. Changes in the incidence of child abuse and neglect since the NIS-1, NIS-2, and the NIS-3 also will be calculated.

The final NIS-4 findings report will fulfill the legislative mandate and be submitted as the Report to Congress.

What about confidentiality?

Confidentiality is an important aspect of the study. The data forms have been carefully designed so that individual children and families cannot be personally identified. The NIS does not ask personally identifying information about any of the persons involved in the suspected maltreatment (no last names, street addresses, or the like), only a few non-identifying items that can be used to remove duplicate forms on the same maltreated children. The forms ask for non-identifying information about the children, their caregivers, and other persons who are adults involved in the abusive or neglectful acts or events. The identity of States, counties and individuals participating in the study will remain confidential and will be delinked from the data as soon as feasible.

What kinds of situations are included in the NIS-4?

To be counted in the study estimates, situations must fit the following requirements:

Time of Maltreatment: The study is limited to children who are maltreated or accepted for investigation at CPS during one of the two study reference periods, September 4 through December 3, 2005 or February 4 through May 3, 2006.

Age and Residence of Child: The study will count only those children who were living in (or homeless in) a study county during the time they are maltreated or accepted for investigation and who were under 18 years of age at the time of their maltreatment.

Definitions of Qualifying Abuse or Neglect. The NIS uses standardized definitions of abuse and neglect and counts only those children whose maltreatment fit its standardized definitions.