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It’s Not as Simple as it Sounds: Problems and Solutions in Accessing and Using Administrative Child Welfare Data for Evaluating the Impact of Early Childhood Interventions
Center for Improvement of Child and Family Services Publications
  • Beth L. Green, Portland State University
  • Catherine Ayoub, Harvard Medical School
  • Jessica Dym Bartlett, Harvard Medical School
  • Carrie Jeanne Furrer, Portland State University
  • Adam Von Ende, Harvard Medical School
  • Rachel Chazen-Cohen, University of Massachusetts Boston
  • Joanne Klevens, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Peggy Nygren, Portland State University
Document Type
Publication Date
  • Clinical trials,
  • Child welfare -- Research,
  • Early Head Start (Program),
  • Social sciences -- Research -- Methodology

In recent years, there has been increasing interest in using administrative data collected by state child welfare agencies as a source of information for research and evaluation. The challenges of obtaining access to and using these data, however, have not been well documented. This study describes the processes used to access child welfare records in six different states and the approach to combining and using the information gathered to evaluate the impact of the Early Head Start program on children’s involvement with the child welfare system from birth through age eleven. We provide “lessons learned” for researchers who are attempting to use this information, including being prepared for long delays in access to information, the need for deep understanding of how child welfare agencies record and code information, and for considerable data management work for translating agency records into analysis-ready datasets. While accessing and using this information is not easy, and the data have a number of limitations, we suggest that the benefits can outweigh the challenges and that these records can be a useful source of information for policy-relevant child welfare research.


This is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Children and Youth Services Review. Changes resulting from the publishing process, may not be reflected in this document. A definitive version was subsequently published.

To the best of our knowledge one or more of the authors was a United Stated Federal employee at the time of writing.

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Citation Information
Green, B.L., Ayoub, C., Bartlett, J.D., Furrer, C., Von Ende, A., Chazan-Cohen, R., Klevens, J. & Nygren, P., It’s not as simple as it sounds: Problems and solutions in accessing and using administrative child welfare data for evaluating the impact of early childhood interventions, Children and Youth Services Review (2015), doi: 10.1016/j.childyouth.2015.07.015