New strategies long overdue on measuring child welfare risk

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by  ChronicleOfSocialChange.org

As The Chronicle of Social Change has been reporting over the past two years, various jurisdictions have been exploring new tools to focus the attention of child welfare systems on the children most at risk of subsequent abuse or neglect. The mainstream media has begun to notice, as demonstrated by CNBC’s recent report on Los Angeles’ contract with software company SAS to develop such a tool for its child welfare system.

These new approaches generally rely on predictive analytics, which means using patterns in data to predict future outcomes. Despite the recent media coverage, there is still some confusion about what is meant by this term, how it differs from current approaches like Structured Decision Making (SDM), and the distinctions between the various new approaches.

To understand these new approaches, it is important to understand how child protective services (CPS) works now. I can describe the process in the District of Columbia, where I once served as a caseworker.

CPS workers in the District use checklists to interview children, parents, teachers, and others about an allegation of abuse and neglect. They generally rely on the verbal answers to these questions, although they do receive access to data from schools and public assistance agencies.

The District of Columbia, like jurisdictions in over 20 states, uses an SDM tool to help social workers decide how to proceed at the conclusion of an investigation. Social workers fill out checklists on the computer. SDM assigns points to each risk factor, such as “primary caregiver has historic or current drug or alcohol problem.”

Based on the worker’s checkoffs, the software spits out a recommendation to remove the child or keep her at home.

SDM has at least two major flaws. First, it can be manipulated to recommend the action that the social worker wants to take. Second, it does not obtain any new data but simply uses what the social worker plugs in. That’s why in my experience in D.C., SDM was treated as a meaningless form to be filled out, not as a tool for making decisions.

A new set of predictive tools, known as predictive analytics, is being developed for governments in Los Angeles, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, and New Zealand. These tools are designed to produce a numeric risk score for each child assessed. A high risk score would target the child and family for special attention, which might include intensive services and monitoring.

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Miracle at Pennsylvania’s State Correctional Institution Forest

Cindy SanfordJuan (name changed), convicted of aggravated assault at 21, has been in solitary for five years. He has seen and experienced it all: brutal cell extractions, hunger strikes, flooded pods and endless hours spent screaming at his cell door.

By the time I met him, he’d racked up over 80 misconducts in numerous prisons and earned the enmity of most of the officers forced to deal with him. Hardly your model inmate.

Yet from our very first visit, I was struck by the humility and sadness in his eyes. Somehow, despite his “bad-boy” reputation, I sensed there was more to him, something worth saving.

Unfortunately, that was not an opinion shared by the officers at State Correctional Institution (SCI) Camp Hill. While corrections officers now receive some mental health training, most still have a mind-set geared toward control and punishment, not mental health care. So it was probably inevitable, given Juan’s conduct, that he would have a rough road in prison and numerous conflicts with staff.

But I am a registered nurse, not a corrections officer. My training never presumed that harsh punishment was the best cure for behavior disorders. A few months after I met Juan, he sent me his medical records, which were a depressing read to say the least.

Addicted to crack at birth, a victim of severe child abuse and neglect, four suicide attempts as a teen, multiple mental health hospitalizations and a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. If that weren’t enough strikes against him, an MRI of his head revealed mild brain damage, presumed to be the result of a beating by his parents. In my view, this was a kid who never had a chance.

“Do you have any contacts or support on the outside?” I asked during that first visit.

Juan looked down but not before his eyes clouded over. “No.”

“Not even a friend — or some other relative?”

“No. There’s nobody,” he said quietly.

I smiled reassuringly, hoping it conveyed the right amount of support without leaving the impression I felt sorry for him. But it was hard not to. Far too many young people, seriously abused and neglected as kids, end up right where he is.

Some enforcement types refer to people like me as “hug a thugs.” I know how they think because I used to be one of them. My grandfather was a New York City police officer. My husband is a retired wildlife conservation officer.

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8 things judges need to know about teen dating violence

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By the Hon. Marshall Murray
Judge of the Circuit Court of Milwaukee
Member of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges

One of the most important duties for any court system is to ensure that youth in the community are protected. As the former Presiding Judge of the Milwaukee Children’s Court and Presiding Judge of the Milwaukee County Domestic Violence Courts, I have seen many young people who were survivors of teen dating violence. They included children who were both male and female, heterosexual and LGBTQ, and from every ethnic background imaginable. It was, and is, very sad to me that while these children are supposed to be focusing on the challenge of adolescence, they were instead grappling

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A thug named Steve

The other day I visited a young black man from Philadelphia doing time for an armed robbery.

First, let me say that there is no way I could have imagined spending time with a thug like Steve before I was led into prison ministry — and it’s safe to assume most people would feel likewise. That’s why I’d like to share what happened. If nothing else, maybe this story will make everyone hug their families extra close tonight and thank God for our blessings.

Steve is about 5 foot 4, with thick glasses and a nervous stutter. I first met him about a year ago. He was so anxious during our first interview, he could barely string three words together and his hands shook like someone suffering end-stage Parkinson’s.

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“Resilience” premieres at Sundance Film Festival to sold-out houses

(l to r) Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, who appears in Resilience; Robert Redford, father of Resilience director James Redford; Clifford Beers Guidance Clinic site coordinator Laura Lawrence, who appears in Resilience; Resilience producer and director James Redford; Resilience co-producer Dana Schwartz

(l to r) Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, who appears in Resilience; Robert Redford, father of Resilience director James Redford; Clifford Beers Guidance Clinic site coordinator Laura Lawrence, who appears in Resilience; Resilience producer and director James Redford; Resilience co-producer Dana Schwartz

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Resilience, a documentary that looks at the birth of the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study and how it spawned a movement across the world, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday. The first two screenings — both on Friday — were sold out.

Not bad for a film whose director, James Redford, wasn’t even planning on submitting it to the festival.

The buzz started before the festival even began. Wired.com listed Resilience as No. 2 in the 25 documentaries not to miss. WhatNotToDoc.com also singled it out. Nonfictionfilm.com did a story about the documentary.

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Integrating ACEs increases hope for healing at One Hope United in Illinois

Tammy Ambre (l) and Keri Bechelli of One Hope United

Tammy Ambre (l) and Keri Bechelli of One Hope United

One Hope United attempts to lead those affected by childhood trauma down a Healing Path.

That’s the name of a three-year-old program that has brought a different approach to helping people with adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). The program operates out of One Hope United’s office in Gurnee, IL, north of Chicago, and three others in the metropolitan area.

“It’s specifically trauma-based treatment, rooted in evidence-based practices,” says Jill Novacek, director of programs for the four Illinois offices of One Hope United. The organization works to ensure safe, loving environments for children by educating and empowering them and their parents—or, if need be, foster parents. The program serves children from

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Closed adoption law separates California teen from her family

Jordan Rodriguez with Evan Low, California  Assemblymember __________________

By Jeremy Loudenback,  ChronicleOfSocialChange.org

Every holiday season, 17-year-old Jordain Rodriguez sends a note to two families she barely knows with a simple wish: She’d like to see her nieces and nephews.

Around the holidays and on each of the children’s birthdays, she writes emails to the two families who adopted her family members, asking for pictures, any recent updates and a chance to talk to them.

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