National Resource Center for Child Welfare Data & Technology A Service of the Children's Bureau & Member of the T/TA Network

« Back to Previous Page

In this edition of Research Roundup, we present summaries of articles on two topics. The first topic discusses using social media to locate unreachable child welfare research participants. Can social networking websites such as Facebook or MySpace help locate young people who have lost touch with research projects or agencies? Are there confidentiality implications to using social media as a tracing tool?

The second topic covers a web questionnaire developed to assess past incidents of child maltreatment in adults.


Download the report in PDF

Research Roundup #3

Using Social Media to Locate Unreachable Child Welfare Research Participants

Longitudinal Studies of Child Abuse and Neglect (LONGSCAN)

Nwadiuko, Isbell, Zolotor, Hussey, and Kotch (2010) used social media to attempt to contact participants in a research project called Longitudinal Studies of Child Abuse and Neglect (LONGSCAN).  First, the researchers attempted to reach 243 participants by U.S. Mail.  They were not able to reach 151 of those participants, so they turned to MySpace and Facebook, with the hope that these participants could be reached there.

On Facebook, the researchers created profiles for themselves in their own names.  On MySpace, they created a profile for the LONGSCAN project.  They used their MySpace and Facebook accounts to search for the unreachable LONGSCAN participants.

The researchers took steps to ensure that they found the actual participants, not people with identical names.  On Facebook, they searched by both name and high school or college.  On MySpace, they searched by name, age, and city and state of last-known residence.  If that city and state had a population over 100,000, they also compared the high school listed on the individual’s MySpace profile with LONGSCAN records.  They attempted to contact the individual only when they found an exact match.

The contact was in the form of a private message, never an invitation to friend the participant.  The message explained that the researchers had unsuccessfully attempted to reach the participant by U.S. Mail.  The message identified the LONGSCAN study, and said that in the future, the researchers would like to ask the participant to complete interviews and questionnaires, for which the participant would receive an incentive payment.  The message also stated that the participants could decline further participation by replying with the word “Remove.”  The researchers demonstrated to the participant that the message was legitimate by including the date of the participant’s last interview in the LONGSCAN project and the name of the interviewer.  The participant could respond to this message by using the MySpace or Facebook private messaging systems, or sending an ordinary email message, or calling a toll-free telephone number.

The researchers sent a second private message to the participants who responded.  In the second message, the researchers asked the respondent to confirm his or her identity by providing the day of his or her birth, without the month and year, and the first name of his or her parent or guardian.  If the participant provided this information correctly, the researchers asked the participant to provide contact information including address and telephone number, for further participation in the LONGSCAN project.

The researchers found 35 profiles on MySpace and Facebook that appeared to be for unreachable participants.  Of those, a total of 7 agreed to participate further in the LONGSCAN study.

The researchers noted that by using MySpace and Facebook, they were able to collect data from these 7 participants who would otherwise have been missed.  They also noted that no breaches of confidentiality occurred.

However, the researchers did not note that their work may have actually endangered the participants’ confidentiality.  When the researchers searched for the unreachable participants, records of the searches were created in databases maintained by MySpace and Facebook.  Those records contained the identities of the researchers and the names that they searched for.  Someone who had access to those databases could potentially discover that the participants appeared to be connected to a research project on child abuse and neglect.  Certainly, this prospect of a breach of confidentiality is remote.  Researchers, Institutional Review Boards, as well as state and tribal child welfare agencies should nonetheless decide if the risk is justified.


Web Questionnaire for Measuring Childhood Abuse Retrospectively

Computer Assisted Maltreatment Inventory (CAMI)

DiLillo and his colleagues (2010) developed a web-based child maltreatment questionnaire called the Computer Assisted Maltreatment Inventory (CAMI). The CAMI obtains retrospective self-reports from adults about childhood maltreatment.  It is not designed to ask children about ongoing maltreatment.

The CAMI is unique in that it assesses multiple types of childhood maltreatment: sexual abuse, physical abuse, exposure to inter-parental violence, psychological abuse, and neglect.  For each type of maltreatment, the CAMI begins with screening questions; for example, for maltreatment related to physical abuse, the CAMI begins by asking respondents whether they experienced any of a range of specific acts of maltreatment prior to age 18.  Respondents who indicate that they have had such experiences are asked more detailed questions to assess the severity and duration of the maltreatment.

In an article in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect, the researchers presented the psychometric properties of the CAMI instrument, including its test-retest reliability, and its validity as assessed by its correlation with the widely-accepted Childhood Trauma Questionnaire.  The researchers also assessed the degree to which respondents tended to respond to CAMI questions in a socially-desirable manner, minimizing their childhood experiences of maltreatment.

The authors concluded that the psychometric measures suggest that the CAMI is a promising method for assessing the nature and severity of past childhood abuse and neglect from the self-reports of adults.


Please contact the NRC-CWDT at for further assistance, including peer to peer technical assistance on these topics.

For more information:

  • Nwadiuko, J., Isbell, P., Zolotor, A. J.; Hussey, J., Kotch, J. B. (2011). Using social networking sites in subject tracing. Field Methods, 23, 77-85.
  • DiLillo, D., Hayes-Skelton, S. A., Fortier, M. A., Perry, A.R., Evans, S. E., Messman Moore, T. L., Walsh, K., Nash, C., Fauchier, A. (2010) Development and Initial Psychometric Properties of the Computer Assisted Maltreatment Inventory (CAMI): A Comprehensive Self-Report Measure of Child Maltreatment History. Child Abuse & Neglect: The International Journal, 34, 305-317.

Research Roundup presents summaries of recent publications in the fields of child welfare, technology, and the Internet. The National Resource Center for Child Welfare Data and Technology updates the Research Roundup column periodically to help child welfare professionals stay aware of current findings and to stimulate discussions about developments in the field. You are invited to post comments and to respond to other readers’ comments on our Groupsite. Please tell us the topics you would like future Research Roundup columns to cover.