Academic journal article Human Ecology

Archive Provides Scholars with Data on Child Abuse

Academic journal article Human Ecology

Archive Provides Scholars with Data on Child Abuse

Article excerpt

When 150 school children were murdered by terrorists in Russia last September, their brutal and untimely death caused worldwide indignation and mourning. It was a tragic loss of unfulfilled lives. Ten times that many children die each year in the United States, but they rarely are mentioned on the national news--they are victims of abuse and neglect. The real number actually is higher. As many as 50 to 60 percent of incidents go unreported, according to recent studies in Colorado and North Carolina.

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Some of the deaths that are officially labeled as accidents, child homicides, and sudden infant death syndrome probably could have been classified as cases of child abuse or neglect if more thorough investigations were conducted or if national standards existed for coding abuse on death certificates.

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But the numbers of deaths are small by comparison to the number of children who survive abuse and neglect each year. In 2002, an estimated 896,000 children were found to be victims of maltreatment in the United States. Like the fatalities, more undetected cases undoubtedly occur. It is this population of children that endure the lifelong effects of long- and even short-term abuse and, sometimes, perpetuate the cycle. These children are also the ones who provide researchers with data on the causes and effects of child abuse and neglect, as well as the effectiveness of treatment programs.

John Eckenrode, professor of human development, co-director of Cornell's Family Life Development Center, and an authority on child maltreatment, divides his time among teaching, research, and making research data on child abuse and neglect accessible to scholars in the field.

"When we think about a national strategy to address the problem of child abuse and neglect, a number of pieces need to be in place," he says. "Certainly one of those pieces is development of an adequate research base. Various reviews of the state of child abuse and neglect research have been conducted over the years, including by the National Academy of Sciences. Those reviews are in agreement that knowledge in the field is inadequate and needs improvement and that once knowledge has been generated it is poorly disseminated."

With initial funding in 1988 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Children's Bureau, Eckenrode helped establish the National Data Archive for Child Abuse and Neglect (NDACAN) in the college's Family Life Development Center (FLDC). The data archive is part of the FLDC's research arm.

Most of FLDC's activities are outreach and extension programs aimed at improving professional and public efforts to understand--and act upon--factors that put families, children, and youth at risk. Preventing childhood and spousal violence; evaluating programs designed to prevent child abuse and neglect; enhancing community-based youth development efforts; improving intergenerational communication about HIV/AIDS; and acquiring, preserving, and disseminating data relevant to the study of child maltreatment--these are among FLDC's objectives.

NDACAN was established to support the research of scholars investigating child maltreatment by promoting secondary data analysis that advances scientific understanding. The archive acquires and processes original data collected by investigators and the federal government on child maltreatment and makes this information accessible to qualified researchers so that they can conduct their own analyses. It has become the largest of the federal data dissemination efforts in the field of child abuse and neglect.

Typical NDACAN users are academic researchers from a variety of fields--such as psychology, sociology, social work, medicine, nursing--who want easy access to high-quality, well-documented data. The scope of the data covers all areas of child abuse and neglect research, including causes and effects, prevention, intervention, and treatment. …

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