In Brief

The federal government is asking a random sample of about 12,000 professionals--including psychologists--who may come into contact with abused and neglected children to report any incidents they see to the Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS-4). The study will help the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services develop an accurate picture of child abuse beyond what is usually reported to child protective services, organizers say.

NIS-4 staff members are asking participating professionals such as school psychologists and counselors to complete a form describing every abused or neglected child they come across during two three-month periods--September to December 2005 and February to May 2006. However, the NIS-4 form serves research purposes only: Study participants do not provide the child's full name and NIS-4 organizers will not forward the reports to child protective services, says Frances Gragg, the NIS-4 recruitment director.

The study's staff members reduce report duplication by linking reports sent in from different sources, using information such as the description of the abuse, the child's age and geographic location, says psychologist Andrea Sedlak, PhD, the NIS-4 project director. The process is time- and labor-intensive, and study results will not be released until 2008, she notes.

"The NIS-4 is the only way the nation has of telling how many more children are abused and neglected beyond those that come to the attention of the child protective-services system," Sedlak says.

The study results are also valuable because the study uses standard definitions of child abuse and neglect, experts say. While all states require professionals to report suspected child abuse and neglect, which professions must report abuse and what qualifies as abuse varies from state to state. The NIS data will reflect a common standard across all jurisdictions, organizers say.

APA has endorsed the NIS-4 and encourages members to participate if they are among those tapped for information, says Mary Campbell, the APA child, youth and families officer.

"The survey will be used to inform federal policy on child abuse," Campbell notes. "Psychologists' participation helps it to be accurate and comprehensive."