By Daniel Heimpel
At 18, Miranda Sheffield got the shock of her life when a pregnancy test came up positive.
Sheffield’s first reaction was “devastation, disappointment, depression, tragedy: any- and everything that could be negative.”
She was a track star and a senior at Pomona High School, set in the vast urban tracts surrounding Los Angeles. Unlike anyone else in her family, Sheffield was on her way to college.
Even if she didn’t fully realize it as a pregnant teen in 2004, the prospects for her baby girl were less than optimal. She was single, on public health insurance and had been in foster care for almost half of her quickly fading childhood.
In 2013, Emily Putnam-Hornstein and a team of researchers from the University of Southern California and the University of California-Berkeley released a groundbreaking study that tracked what happens to the children of young mothers who had experienced the child protection system in Los Angeles.
By age five, 40 percent of children with mothers who had been suspected victims of abuse were reported themselves. For sons and daughters of moms who had been confirmed victims, 18 percent would wind up as confirmed victims themselves.
Applying Predictive Analytics to Child Maltreatment Response and Prevention
This is only one facet of a growing body of research that is clearly linking certain data points available when a baby is born with their subsequent involvement with the child protection system.
What is emerging is a new paradigm, where big data can be crunched in a way that helps determine which children are at greater risk of being abused.
For Los Angeles County, which committed itself to an overhaul of its child protection system last year, the idea of applying “predictive analytics” to child maltreatment response and prevention has gained a new currency. Its Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection recommended that the county implement a predictive analytics model piloted in Florida that is meant to reduce child fatalities. It also pointed to Putnam-Hornstein’s research, which could be applied to targeting services to families and individuals, like Miranda Sheffield, before a call of abuse is ever made.
The transition team charged with seeing the blue ribbon commission’s recommendations through has taken little substantive action towards launching a