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FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

What law mandates the NIS-4?
What information did the NIS-4 provide?
Who conducted the NIS-4?
How does the NIS-4 differ from other studies on child abuse and neglect?


What law mandated 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.

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What information did the NIS-4 provide?

The NIS-4 produced reliable national estimates of the current incidence of child abuse and neglect and of its distribution and severity. Information from the NIS-4 was compared with data obtained from the earlier studies, 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.

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Who conducted 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 was assisted in the NIS-4 work by Walter R. McDonald and Associates (WRMA).

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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.

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