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Caregiver Instability and Early Life Changes Among Infants Reported to the Child Welfare System

NCJ Number
Child Abuse and Neglect Volume: 38 Issue: 3 Dated: March 2014 Pages: 498-509
Cecilia Casanueva; Mary Dozier; Stephen Tueller; Melissa Dolan; Keith Smith; Mary Bruce Webb; T’Pring Westbrook; Brenda Jones Harden
Date Published
March 2014
12 pages
This study examined the extent of caregiver instability in a nationally representative sample of infants monitored for 5-7 years.
For this study, "caregiver instability" was defined as "a new placement for 1 week or longer in a different household and/or with a new caregiver." This longitudinal study of 5,501 children investigated for child maltreatment determined that 85.6 percent of the children who were infants at the time of the index maltreatment (n=1,196) experienced at least one change of caregiver and/or household during their first 2 years after birth. Nearly 40 percent of children experienced four or more changes between infancy and entering school. Caregiver instability was associated with the child having a chronic health condition and the caregiver being older than 40 years old at baseline. The finding emphasized in this study is that all infants who were investigated for a report of maltreatment were at high risk for instability, regardless of the substantiation status of the maltreatment report, whether the child remained at home, or was placed out of home, regardless of the child's race/ethnicity or gender. This finding challenges the common belief that the child welfare system (CWS) creates caregiver instability related to maltreated infants. The primary issue concerns how the CSW might become involved in young children's lives to promote stability for those left at home after a maltreatment investigation. The authors cite evidence-based programs that have been shown to improve attachment, child well-being outcome, and CWS outcome. This study involved a nationally representative sample of infants. Data were drawn from the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW), a longitudinal study of 5,501 infants. The analysis sample was restricted to 1,196 infants. 4 tables, 1 figure, and 46 references