For Better or Worse? Change in Service Use by Children Investigated by Child Welfare over a Decade

Ruth E.K. Stein, Michael S. Hurlburt, Amy M. Heneghan, Jinjin Zhang, Bonnie Kerker, John Landsverk, Sarah Mc Cue Horwitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Background Children, particularly minority children, referred to child welfare because of suspected maltreatment are vulnerable and need many services. We sought to assess whether service use has improved over the past decade and whether racial-ethnic disparities in service use have decreased. Methods We used 2 national data sets (the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being [NSCAW] I and II) collected a decade apart to assess changes over time in health, education, mental health (MH), and dental services and overall service use. Results In NSCAW II more children were young, had lower Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) scores, and were Hispanic. We found significant increases in dental services, a decrease in special education services, and a decrease in MH services on the bivariate level (all P <.01). A large proportion of the change in MH services occurred in school settings, but the pattern continued when examining only those services delivered outside of school. The greatest decrease occurred for children with CBCL scores <64. However, in multivariate analyses, older children, white non-Hispanic children, and children placed out of the home were significantly more likely to receive MH services. Rates of MH services controlling for CBCL scores showed no improvement over the decade, nor was there a decrease in racial and ethnic disparities. Conclusions These data showed no change in MH services over time for children referred for child welfare evaluation, but improvement in dental services was noted. Racial and ethnic disparities persist. Decrease in MH services occurred predominantly among children whose MH symptoms were below the clinical range.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)240-246
Number of pages7
JournalAcademic Pediatrics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016


  • child welfare
  • dental services
  • disparities
  • health
  • mental health
  • special education

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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