The Los Angeles County Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) has developed a risk stratification tool that filters existing child abuse investigation data and identifies cases where children are at risk of being abused or being placed in foster care.
According to a Insight of the program, inexperienced social workers often handle emergencies without sufficient support and are overwhelmed by a high number of referrals and investigations, leading to uneven safety and risk assessments. A Audit 2019 said supervisors could have prevented errors when reviewing worker assessments, but they “often completed their reviews long after social workers made decisions about child safety.”
These issues have highlighted the need for better data management and analysis early in the process so that the ministry can be better prepared to respond to family crises.
The risk stratification model, the development of which was led by the Children’s Data Networkanalyzes various factors and historical information in DCFS and the state’s case management/child protective services system and alerts supervisors when enhanced support is needed.
It examines over 300 factors about the children, including the age and gender of those involved, the number of previously reported allegations of abuse, the existence of a prior termination of parental rights, health information such as prenatal substance use, initial reporter and other data. .
To avoid racial bias in the system, the stratification model does not assess race and ethnicity data or geographic indicators, including postal codes. The department said it tested the model’s accuracy in different racial and ethnic subgroups and identified screening and reporting practices that may trigger unnecessary investigations of African American families.
The tool identifies opportunities to improve practices to avoid the cycle of repeat reports to the child protection hotline by giving supervisors critical information at the start of an investigation – when there is a small window of opportunity. opportunity to perform safety assessments, gather information and develop service plans.
By reviewing the information the tool presents at the start of an investigation, supervisors have more time to coordinate service and work with community partners to resolve allegations of child abuse.
After training and validating the model, the risk stratification tool was launched in three Los Angeles County offices in August 2021 – Belvedere, Lancaster and Santa Fe Springs – as part of child abuse prevention efforts County.
DCFS said it has already seen improvements in child protection services, indicated by an increase in the number of families being referred to community services, a reduction in re-reporting of cases as families’ needs are more likely to be satisfied sooner, fewer missed assessments or errors in investigations, and improved departmental engagement with families.
DCFS has published a methodological report, implementation information, quantitative data for surveys, and an ethical review of the tool’s use case on its website.
“Making this information public is just one small step toward good governance and building trust in the work we do,” said DCFS Director Brandon T. Nichols. “It’s important to us that families and those advocating for both children and their parents have the data they need to hold us accountable.”