U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

The NIS-4: What It All Means (And Doesn't Mean)

NCJ Number
Jesse Russell, Ph.D.; Tracy Cooper
Date Published
April 2011
16 pages
This publication summarizes findings from the most recent National Incidence Study (NIS-4), which is a long-term research effort to estimate the number of incidents of child abuse and neglect across the country each year; and this report examines some of the differences in findings from previous years, considers the implications of the study and these differences, and discusses practical implications of the findings for courts and judges.
Contrary to the substantial increase in child maltreatment rates reported in previous cycles of the study, the NIS-4 reports an overall decrease in the per capita incidence of child maltreatment (a 19-percent decline from NIS-3 levels) within the "Harm Standard" as defined by the study. In contrast, there was no change in child abuse and neglect rates using the more inclusive "Endangerment Standard." The "Harm Standard" generally requires that an act or omission resulted in demonstrable harm; whereas, the "Endangerment Standard" includes incidences in which the child was endangered, even if there was no demonstrable harm. The analysis of these findings concludes that the incidence of child maltreatment has been associated with the national economy, policy reform in the child welfare system, and changes in child welfare system practice. In addition, improvements in NIS-4 measurement techniques and increases in economic disparities have led to a new finding of differences in maltreatment rates among racial groups. The findings do not mean, however, that Black families maltreat their children at a greater rate than families of other races. The NIS-4 does report race differences in maltreatment rates, but it does not indicate that these differences are due to race; the differences in maltreatment rates are likely attributable to other factors associated with economic and social conditions. 3 figures and 15 references