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Pediatrics. 2005 Oct;116(4):891-900.

Developmental and behavioral needs and service use for young children in child welfare.

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  • 1Child and Adolescent Services Research Center, San Diego, CA 92123, USA.



To determine the level of developmental and behavioral need in young children entering child welfare (CW), estimate early intervention services use, and examine variation in need and service use based on age and level of involvement with CW by using a national probability sample in the United States.


As part of the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being, data were collected on 2813 children <6 years old for whom possible abuse or neglect was investigated by CW agencies. Analyses used descriptive statistics to determine developmental and behavioral needs across 5 domains (cognition, behavior, communication, social, and adaptive functioning) and service use. Logistic regression was used to examine the relationship between independent variables (age, gender, race-ethnicity, maltreatment history, level of CW involvement, and developmental or behavior problems) and service use.


Results indicate that age and level of CW involvement predict service use when controlling for need. Both toddlers (41.8%) and preschoolers (68.1%) in CW have high developmental and behavioral needs; however, few children are receiving services for these issues (22.7% overall). Children that remain with their biological parents have similar needs to those in out-of-home care but are less likely to use services. Children <3 years of age are least likely to use services.


Children referred to CW have high developmental and behavioral need regardless of the level of CW involvement. Both age and level of involvement influence service use when controlling for need. Mechanisms need to be developed to address disparities in access to intervention.

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