How does a highly effective teacher unlock student potential?

“(Teaching) is an incredible opportunity to be a catalyst for what we want the future to be," says Shannon Hardy, a 21-year math and science teacher from The Exploris School in Raleigh, NC, Wake County Public School System.

Ms. Hardy uses data not just as a summative measurement tool, but as a key to unlock student potential that is not so easily realized. The video below shows the genuinely loving relationship between Ms. Hardy and two exceptional students with very different needs.

Invest four minutes in watching this video and I promise you will want to seek out Shannon Hardy to learn more about how she gets it done. In both cases, the data revealed what wasn’t immediately apparent, but critical for the teacher to know.

This is part 2 of a video blog series that illustrates how highly effective teachers do far more than positively impact student learning gains, but become part of something bigger to change students’ lives. Part One highlighted the relationship between a student-athlete and teacher-coach.


The video first introduces us to young Kaleo, a historically high-achieving student who was hampered by insecurity while struggling to find his place in a new school. “I was nervous about how I’d look in school, how I’d be in school, how other people would look at me.” Personal note: So was I, but it took me until my senior year in high school to snap out of it. Not Kaleo. The Exploris School and Ms. Hardy’s math class quickly became “like a family” because of the unique culture and climate. By using data to understand Kaleo’s abilities, Ms. Hardy was able to boost his self-esteem, his academic performance, and simultaneously help other students through his classroom leadership.

We then meet Hannah, a courageous young girl with autism who wasn’t always so outspoken, noting that, “learning is hard for me because I can’t really find the right words to say.” At the start of the school year, Hannah struggled academically. Ms. Hardy could not figure out how to get Hannah performing at the level she believed was possible.

Looking at her 6th grade academic record, initial expectations were bleak. But, by digging deeper into Hannah’s growth and achievement data, Ms. Hardy was able to show Hannah that she actually performed on grade level in third grade. Hannah could see that her social anxiety in 4th and 5th grade led to a steady decline bottoming out her math performance at 12% by the end of 5th grade.

Hannah had to understand her own potential.  Once a trusting relationship was established, Hannah finally spoke out to her peers about her autism because “at my school I felt safe there and I trusted a bunch of people there.” Ms. Hardy could then push Hannah harder because the data informed them both of what was possible, and she balanced the rigor with a great “sense of humor and she made learning experiences fun.”

So how did Ms. Hardy manage to pull this off for two exceptional learners amidst a class of many others who also needed differentiation? She focused on relationships before rigor, and relied on data as a guide. “Kids have so many social and emotional challenges in middle school and their feelings of security will impact all of their work and performance. So, if I have data that tells me this child was performing higher, then I know to ask for more. If I have a data that tells me that this child has always performed at this lower level, then we know to be more nurturing. We know to take our time, to chunk it more, and look for more resources…Teachers have to focus on values first….If values aren’t at the core of what we’re doing, then the rest doesn’t matter. We have to be people first.”

Amen to that.


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Child protection agencies lagging in use of analytics to protect kids

At-risk kids webinar image-12-15What happened to the adage, "What gets measured, gets done"?  Though progress is being made, there are too many child protection agencies that have yet to understand the profound impact data-informed policy and practice have on performance outcomes, as well as staff retention and satisfaction.

Without dipping deep into the well, I pulled this small sample of quotes from multiple reports and audits done on child serving agencies:

“The better our data, the better we can target where real crime is going on [and] where we are seeing some problems in police-community interactions that we can catch ahead of time,” President Obama said. “The use of technology or the use of data, combined with smart community policing, can really make a difference.”

"Staff stated there is a need for analytical support to extract data and create reports, which would provide better information regarding call information for management to staff appropriately for peak times."

"The Child Abuse and Neglect Center Referrals Statistical Summaries do not include data on After Hour Program calls nor average number of calls and dispositions per social worker, to provide adequate information to manage staffing"

"Over the course of the audit, department staff routinely indicated they recognize CPS activities are not well documented. However, they stress their work keeps children safe and ultimately that is the focus of their activities, with documentation of those activities being secondary."

"The Department is data rich, but analysis poor. They do not use data to in assessing, planning, implementing, evaluating, and improving the effectiveness of service delivery."

No one would ever say we should put data collection over child safety, but it doesn’t have to be an either/or decision. In fact, better data analysis will help caseworkers know where best to spend their limited time.

Some agencies are further along than others, however, many are lacking the tools, capacity, and data driven culture to implement business reporting and/or advance analytics into continuous quality improvement efforts.  That being said, it all starts with laying a firm foundation within the culture of the agency that emphasizes data collection, analysis and utilization of data to improve the ability to make informed case practice and policy decisions.

To hear from national thought leaders on the issue of creating a data driven culture that positively impacts services for children, please register for the Dec. 3 webinar, How Data Helps Protect At-Risk Children.

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Internal fraud:  Rogue employees, biased procurement officers, and outright thieves

John Beale was one of the highest paid government employees. A 10-year veteran of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Beale defrauded the Federal Government of nearly $1M in employment wages and fraudulent travel.  Beale came under suspicion after it was noticed that the he was still being paid wages 19 months after his “retirement”. This began to shed light on his blatant and elaborate schemes to defraud the agency on the taxpayer’s dime.

He was paid for over two and a half years of “work” where he claimed to be serving on a project with the Central Intelligence Agency but was not working at all.  He rang up over $57,000 in travel expenses for an uncompleted project, many times expensing meals near his home in California when he was supposed to be travelling in another city or state.  To top it off, he fraudulently obtained a parking spot worth $200 per month based upon claims he contracted Malaria while serving in Vietnam. This was also not true.

Beale is a prime example of an insider threat. A well-established and trusted employee whose extensive experience allows them to commit a variety of types of internal fraud.

"The individual" is a prominent focus in today’s cybersecurity training.  Often referred to as “the weakest link”, an organization’s employees are frequent entry points for cyber criminals into a secure network environment.  Meticulous phishing schemes have become common, making it even more difficult to safeguard assets.  Security groups have stepped up training to help staff members spot questionable emails or social engineering attempts to obtain internal information. However, the threat will persist as mistakes are an unavoidable part of human nature.

Employees also introduce other risk to an organization, unrelated to any external hacker influence.  Employees serve in positions that can be ripe with fraud – such as Procurement.  Other positions also present a fraud risk, such as customer service representatives with access to personally identifiable information, internal program management, IT or administration, and systems administrators who often have broad reaching access to the organizations network environment.  While most employers vet potential job candidates, and the government will subjects certain positions to  security clearance background investigations, the risk still remains as individual’s circumstances and motivations can change overtime.  The FBI’s Robert Hanssen of the FBI, NSA contractor Edward Snowden, and US Army Private Manning all illustrate national security incidents, where security clearances failed to deter abuse of trust.  Agencies must develop policies that acknowledge that internal risks evolve, even at the individual employee level.

In all fairness to the EPA, who was subject to additional inquiries that surfaced a myriad of fraud and questionable practices, the John Beale situation really could have happened to any organization.  The fact is, most organizations may have policies and even controls in place, but they are rarely enforced and often completely overlooked.   For agencies, it’s difficult to turn the attention inward among the ranks of “our own”.  As human beings, we want to trust one another, especially those we have known for years.   However, recent events, including Beale’s fraud, have proven that organizations can no longer ignore these risks – and coupled with the external threats such as cybercrime – it’s imperative to improve prevention and detection of internal risk.

Employees can be an organization’s greatest assets, and its most vulnerable weakness.  Training and formal programs are a good start towards ensuring the integrity of an organization, but executives and security professionals must be proactive in looking at internal risk and where it can occur. The procurement process, individual employment wages or expenses, sensitive data and classified information are all ripe for insider attack.  Government organizations may not have profit margins or shareholders to motive them in addressing internal fraud, but they do have (and themselves are) taxpayers who ultimately end up paying the price.

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Cyber barbarians are at the gates! Analytics can help

Barbarians are relentless, and they are inside the gates!  That didn't go well for the Romans, and they had the most advanced technologies of their day.  So how do we do better against the relentless waves of cyber barbarians attacking virtually everywhere?

The answer to that is analytics, which offers early detection of behaviors that indicate a breach in the wall, and quick responsiveness to repel those virtual ropes and ladders.  Most of these attackers are after data they can use to commit fraud, identity theft and hijack finances, and their goals are quickly uncovered with proper monitoring.  Some stats around the risks faced today:

  • The FBI is on record, stating that over 500 million financial records were hacked  last year, and 110 million Americans, half of all US adults, had their personal data exposed year
  • In the U.S., an identity theft occurs every 3 seconds, according to Javelin Strategy & Research
  • According to reports to the FTC, 34% of stolen identities are utilized for government fraud, with the highest rates in Florida.  Credit card fraud was a distant second at 17%

On a personal note, in a 12 month period, I received four notices of data breaches from a wide variety of companies, ranging from retailers to health insurers.

But once data has become the virtual haul of cyber barbarians, how can we be protected as consumers?  How do banks, retailers and government agencies ensure that they don't become victims of fraud as citizens suffer from the impacts of identity theft?  Properly monitoring attempted contacts, transactions and requests through analytics.  Seeing if the information provided matches that on record.  Comparing new behavior to known behavior, and results across transactions to identify outliers and matches with past fraud.

Many organizations are following this route.  As more do, we will all see the impacts of data breaches mitigated.  When there isn't any treasure to be raided, the motivation for cyber barbarians to attack plummets.  Kentucky Department of Revenue is heading down this path, protecting citizens of that Commonwealth (and the rest of us - identity theft crosses borders!) from fraud and the impacts of identity theft.  At the same time, this keeps taxes in place and available to pay for roads, teachers and other critical needs, rather than running off with the cyber barbarians.

Believe me, that's a much better approach than a moat.

More to add to the conversation during International Fraud Awareness Week? Please share your thoughts in response to this blog, or seek me out on Twitter @CarlHammersburg and weigh in.


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Medical identity fraud isn’t just expensive, it can be deadly

Identity fraud typically conjures thoughts of credit card scams or stolen Social Security numbers. Medical identity fraud is often overlooked, but can be a crime that kills.

On the black market your medical identity can be worth as much as $50 per person versus $1 for a Social Security Number. Imagine the harm that could be caused if a fraudster obtained both for a cost of less than $52. Medical Identity Fraud is gaining momentum and in the next few years you will hear more and more about it, not just from a financial perspective, but from a quality of care perspective as well.

What Is Medical Identity Theft?

Medical identity theft is “the appropriation or misuse of a patient’s or [provider’s] unique medical identifying information to obtain or bill public or private payers for fraudulent medical goods or services,” according to S. Agrawal and P. Budetti in their article, Physician Medical Identity Theft, in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

So medical identity fraud are the fraudulent activities resulting from the theft.

Common medical identity fraud schemes

All providers are at risk for medical identity theft. Criminals typically use two major approaches to bill fraudulent claims with stolen medical identities.

In the first approach, criminals use provider medical identifiers to make it appear as if providers ordered or referred patients for additional health services, such as Durable Medical Equipment (DME), diagnostic testing, or home health services.

In the second approach, criminals use provider medical identifiers to make it appear that a physician provided and billed services directly. On January 5, 2012, a woman in Florida was sentenced to prison for using a New York physician’s medical identifiers from April 2004 through March 2007, to bill services never rendered. She billed the services to a Medicare Part B carrier in New Jersey. The physician did not know the perpetrator, never saw any of the patients, and did not give permission to use his identity.

Potentially deadly implications for quality of care

What if you needed a blood transfusion during a trip to the emergency room; however, you received the wrong type of blood?  Your medical history clearly showed that you were AB positive but yet you didn’t receive that type of blood. In the past, you might assume a doctor or nurse made an error. However, in today’s world it could be a result of medical identity theft.

In this example a fraudster, using your medical identifier, could go to the emergency room to get treatment for a real condition they have. By getting treatment, their medical profile now is a part of your record. That is, the fraudster changed your medical history by adding a false diagnosis, blood type and identifier to your record.  So the fraudster’s blood type, allergies, diseases, and health conditions, that are not accurately reflecting your health, become a part of your record. This is just one small scenario of what can go wrong, causing a serious quality of care issue. The scenarios are frighteningly endless.

Medical ID theft vs. Financial ID theft

The threat of medical identity theft has increased, in part, because of breaches, including the high-profile, massive attacks on some of the nation's largest health insurance companies.

Hackers stole information on a reported 80 million customers and employees in one such attack. Anytime a healthcare breach occurs, the long term medical identity fraud threat may go on for years before the attempt to commit fraud with the stolen information could occur. Therefore, the true damages of a breach will be hard to truly quantify in the short term.

Until recently, there was not a lot of data to steal from medical records because digitization is a relatively new concept. The Affordable Care Act has put into place digital healthcare record requirements that will only increase the amount of information that is available for the taking.

What makes medical identity fraud particularly tricky is medical facilities and insurance companies often do not have systems in place to alert you to unusual activity, unlike banks and other financial institutions. There also are very few steps in place to verify procedures with the alleged recipient. That is, someone can use your insurance policy for a procedure, yet no one will call to verify the claim in advance. Also, while a bank or credit card will usually refund your money or remove suspicious charges while an incident is investigated, you might immediately find yourself on the hook for a fraudulent medical bill.

Imagine opening your mail one day and having $250,000 in medical bills that you never received. It becomes a tangled mess to alleviate the error and is a burden on insurers and hospitals as you try to determine what actually occurred in your medical past to correct your medical record. This is happening across the United States and will only worsen.

Learning from the Financial Marketplace

The financial marketplace has systems in place to alert you to unusual activity. Chances are that on any given day a transaction that you make has analytics running behind it to make sure the event is a legitimate one.

To tackle medical identity fraud, the wheel doesn’t need to be completely reinvented. Many of the same data analytics used in the financial market place to detect anomalies could be used with a different algorithm to successfully identify medical identity fraud, and following our previous example, prevent the wrong blood type from being administered in the healthcare system. There are hundreds of other applications as well. In sum, analytics can not only help prevent fraud from a traditional cost recovery sense, but it can help ensure the quality of care that is delivered.

Medical-Identity-Fraud blog sidebar

This week is International Fraud Awareness Week, which I’ll be celebrating at the SAS-sponsored NHCAA Institute for Health Care Fraud Prevention Annual Training Conference in San Diego. Please come say hello if you are partcipating.

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What's all the fuss about identity quizzes?



Identity quizzes are a hot topic among fraud fighters, and particularly so among tax administrators. A quick web search finds that a lot of state tax agencies use quizzes to fight refund fraud, including Indiana, Louisiana, and Ohio. Even the IRS has gotten into the game.

In reading the press releases from these states – as well as the marketing materials from the vendors who pitch them – you would think that tax agencies have developed a secret weapon to stop all tax fraud. “The identity protection program is a way the Department of Revenue is proactively protecting the identities and refunds” of taxpayers, trumpets one state tax agency.

All of this hoopla begs the question, “What’s all the fuss about identity quizzes?”

For those of you who are unfamiliar with them, identity quizzes are a way to verify someone’s identity called “knowledge based authentication”. It’s a simple concept. If you aren’t sure about someone’s identity, ask them a few questions that only they should know the answers to. Get the answers right? We trust you. Get ‘em wrong? You must be a con artist who is trying to cheat the system.

The trick in making this concept work is to find a good source of information for the questions. Turns out that the data collected by credit reporting agencies – previous addresses, car registration data, mortgage amounts – can be an easy and mostly-reliable source for questions. Combine that data with information from previous tax returns (think “prior year adjusted gross income”), and you’ve got a foolproof way of stopping tax fraud. Right?

As Lee Corso from ESPN’s College Game Day likes to say, “Not so fast, my friend!

Relying solely on identity quizzes to stop tax fraud is a flawed strategy. Here are three reasons why:

  1. Fraudsters have figured out how to get around them. The most sophisticated bad guys have figured out ways to pass the quiz! How? Similar to what credit reporting agencies do, fraudsters have started to collect data for commonly-asked questions – previous addresses, car registration data, and others. Often, this stolen data comes from data breaches, such as the recent Office of Personnel Management breach. Ask the fraudster to take a quiz, and he will gladly oblige.
  2. Quizzes solve only a sliver of the fraud problem. Tax fraud is massive and complex, with hundreds of various schemes that can be perpetrated. But, tax administrators use identity quizzes to stop only a single scheme – one known as “stolen identity refund fraud”. That must be a massive part of tax fraud, right? Wrong. Stolen identity refund fraud accounts for less than 2% of all tax fraud and non-compliance.
  3. Quiz questions can be (ridiculously) wrong. Just ask an Ohio woman who recently took an identity quiz. She was asked which address she shared with another woman.“That is my ex-husband’s third wife,” she said. “Clearly, I did not share an address with her ever. So I answered ‘none of the above,’ which apparently was incorrect.”  Saving someone from being a victim of refund fraud by making them a victim of bad questions? That makes no sense at all.

It’s pretty clear that identity quizzes have big limitations in fighting fraud. So what’s the take-away?

ID quizzes can be used to stop some kinds of fraud, but only when they are part of a much larger arsenal of fraud-fighting weapons. Before you fall for the hype, ask tough questions about what scheme(s) an identity quiz will stop… and about whether they will continue to be relevant as fraudsters develop ways to evade them.

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Why Excel isn’t the solution for health care fraud, waste and abuse investigations

Regardless of how you feel about spreadsheets, you need powerful analytics to uncover health care fraud. Image:

Regardless of how you feel about spreadsheets, you need powerful analytics to uncover health care fraud. Image:

To prepare for the data challenges of 2015 and beyond, health care fraud, waste and abuse investigative units (government funded and commercial insurance plans, alike) need a data management infrastructure that provides access to data across programs, products and channels.

This goes well beyond sorting and filtering small sets of data, which is what Excel is designed to do. Yet many, I would say most, organizations rely on Excel as a solution for healthcare fraud, waste and abuse investigations.

Why is this true?

Many believe they cannot afford a more robust solution, typically because they have been misinformed about expensive database overhauls. Despite what many may think, moving toward a data management foundation and applying advanced data analytics on top of it, doesn’t require a database overhaul; rather, it requires a data integration layer that can source from databases around the organization, business partner organizations, social media outlets, and from external public or purchased data.

Unscrupulous providers and suppliers will sometimes intentionally provide inaccurate, incomplete or inconsistent information to prevent records matching across disparate systems. In many other cases, matching is hindered by a lack of data sharing agreements between agencies. This prevents government-funded and commercial plans from introducing data quality capabilities that support entity resolution. For example, entity resolution would reveal that William T. Jones in one system is the same person as William Taylor Jones in another.

Since the devil is in the details, the data management, integration, and quality infrastructure must be supported by a robust business analytics foundation. To make proper use of internal and external data sources, the business analytics foundation must have a variety of analytic “arrows” in its quiver. It can deploy multiple processes that identify suspicious patterns that could point to programmatic fraud, waste, or abuse.

Time is money, and in this new payment frontier, government-funded and commercial plans need an infrastructure designed to stop the improper payments, instead of chasing them down after the money is long gone.

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You can’t talk international fraud without mentioning cybersecurity

InternationalFraudAwarenessWeek-logoInternational Fraud Awareness Week begins on Monday, and you know what that means. Our intrepid team of fraud experts is taking over the State and Local Connection blog! Fellow bloggers, get ready.

Each day next week one member of the SAS Fraud and Security Intelligence team will post on a fraud-related topic. See the compelling line-up below.

But before I yield the floor to my compatriots, I want talk a little about cybersecurity and fraud, and share a little optimism. Cyberattacks and fraud are two sides of the same coin. Generally, cyberattacks are done for three reasons:

  1. To obtain personally identifiable information (PII) in order to steal someone’s identity and commit fraudulent acts. Tax, credit card, benefits fraud…all of these are typical downstream activities following ID theft.
  2. To steal trade secrets. This is often state-sponsored cybercrime or perhaps by a competing company.
  3. To harm an organization’s ability to do business or serve citizens. This might be a denial-of-service attack, computer virus, server take down, an epic RickRoll, etc.

But, in reality, number one is the thing we’re most concerned about in our group. These PII hacks are often committed by large, offshore organized crime groups. It’s low risk and high reward and very difficult to recover the money once it’s gone. Unfortunately, a significant portion of that money is then funneled to terrorist and other criminal enterprise to finance other criminal activities. So, cyber begets fraud, which begets terrorism. A frightening situation, right?

Fortunately, there are several opportunities in that process to stop the perpetrators. Cyber analytics solutions like the new SAS Cybersecurity can help prevent the theft of PII. If hackers have the PII, fraud-fighting software can spot suspicious claims and prevent the payments from ever being made to the fraudsters. Anti-money laundering software gives banks an opportunity to step in and keep money from getting to terrorists. Lastly, monitoring open data sources like Twitter and using analytics for threat assessment can help prevent a terrorist attack.

With analytics, we can stay ahead of bad actors at every step along the way. As one of my team members likes to say, we are trying to “get left of boom”, or prevent bad things from happening.  The technology is available today to thwart these events – whether it be a cyber breach, financial fraud or terrorist attack - and I’m confident that our industry will continue to fight the good fight to get ahead of the criminals.  See, I told you I’d share some optimism!

Next week’s line-up will cover myriad fraud topics. Please check back each day for the latest entry. This schedule may shuffle a bit depending on who’s got their blog homework done. (Shaun, I’m looking in your direction.) Thanks for reading!

Monday:   Why Excel isn't the Solution for Healthcare Fraud, Waste and Abuse Investigations, Ricky Sluder

Tuesday:   What’s all the fuss about identity quizzes?, Shaun Barry

Wednesday:   Medical Identity Fraud is a Quality of Care Issue, Mike Davis

Thursday:   Occupational Fraud, Jen Dunham

Friday:  Cyber breaches are inevitable, analytics can stop the bleeding, Carl Hammersburg

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Highly effective teacher, coach and his student, athlete

This post shares the story of a teacher and coach, and a student-athlete who was the first in his family to graduate college, attend graduate school, and aspires to become a Mathematics professor. It's the first entry in a blog series that will highlight some tremendous educators with whom I’ve been privileged to work. The series shows that we're all part of something bigger.


Being a highly effective teacher is not just about successful strategies within the four classroom walls. Everything teachers do, in the hallway, assemblies, athletic courts and fields, impacts kids. Every seemingly simple action or conversation has the potential to hook their hearts and help students get one step closer to achieving their academic potential.

Part one features Jason McGeorge, a Career and Technical Education (CTE) teacher and varsity football coach from Wake County, North Carolina.

Jason McGeorge and I shared a classroom and collaborated on lesson plans and assessment creation for four years. In addition to watching him teach every day, we also went through the grueling year of reflection involved in National Board of Professional Teaching Standards certification together. We would watch each other’s videotaped lessons at lunch and point out strengths and weaknesses in our written responses. Thanks to some great mentors, we both received National Board Certification on our first attempt, which is only realized by about 40% of applicants. However, Mr. McGeorge and I had very different teaching styles.

Mr. McGeorge is a 6’3” 270 lb. former football player and coach. He could yell “Be quiet!” in a bellowing voice that would silence a classroom on a dime. He could pull off a naturally authoritative demeanor that would seem royally unauthentic for me. To be fair, while he may have come across as commanding and hard-nosed because he expected greatness from his students and players, he also had a softer side when students would come to him for help. This teaching style worked for him, and clearly worked for his students, because I watched them sign up for his electives year after year. And they thrived!

Not only did Mr. McGeorge’s classes have some of the highest proficiency rates. Mr. McGeorge’s students also exceeded their growth expectations. He landed at a Level 4 or 5, the highest teacher effectiveness levels, every year since North Carolina began providing value-added data to CTE teachers. As an athlete and a coach, Mr. McGeorge’s data-driven competitiveness paid dividends to his students.

The video shows a glimpse of how Mr. McGeorge ticks, but more importantly, it tells the story of a student he impacted. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about. Students want to excel on assessments in order to have postsecondary options. Teachers want to master their craft and make a positive impact. But being a high-impact teacher is about much more than producing high test scores. It’s part of something bigger by opening doors for students and changing the trajectory of their lives. Thank you, Mr. McGeorge, for doing just that.

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Toxic stress and poverty: Using data to change outcomes

People encounter stress in all types of situations. Positive stress occurs when we are exposed to new situations or challenges, perhaps a new job or attending a new school – this type of stress is typically short term and is a necessary factor in healthy development. Tolerable stress results from a longer term situation such as a serious illness, divorce or a natural disaster. Tolerable stress can be managed through supportive relationships that help a person handle and adapt to the situation.

Toxic stress, on the other hand, is described as the stress associated with long-term, frequent or prolonged adversity without support systems and protective relationships. Key issues like unemployment, homelessness, lack of food security, domestic violence, criminal history and addiction may all contribute to toxic stress.   The sustained level of stress can have a real impact on one’s ability to make decisions and cope with situations in a healthy and productive manner.


Perhaps most critically, toxic stress in a family environment can have a long-lasting and detrimental effect on children. Children in homes with toxic stress may be at higher risk of abuse or neglect. They may be more likely to demonstrate below average performance in school. Toxic stress may decrease the likelihood of completing high school and may increase the chances of teenage pregnancy. As a result, those children often become adults who struggle with many of the same challenges of poverty, homelessness, abusive relationships, and instability.

So how does the story change?

The recent National Association for Welfare Research and Statistics conference focused on Strengthening the Safety Net: Challenges and New Perspectives in Promoting Employment and Income Stability. The conference emphasized self-sufficiency and stability, with much of the discussion related to collaboration, sharing information, and how programs can work together to more effectively offer services and support to at-risk families.

Researchers and experts in the field spoke of the critical need to understand and engage parents to impact the futures of their children. They discussed the need to work collaboratively across government agencies and organizations to share more data about families - providing the ability to better understand the unique needs of the family as a whole as well as the individuals who are part of the family. Comprehensive information is necessary to improve the ability to rapidly assess and match needs to services, as well as ability to see recognize family changes that are occurring over time. And perhaps most importantly, integrated and comprehensive data is needed to understand and assess the long-term impact of program services and engagement models on the generational poverty that continues to plague our nation. The data is there, and we are committed to helping government find ways to use their data more effectively to support our most vulnerable families.

Children should all have the opportunity to live free of the toxic stress that impacts so many lives. One speaker concluded her talk with a reminder that our children will mirror the examples society sets for them – she showed the Children See, Children Do video to remind us of the importance of creating a society that nurtures, support and teaches our children so they can grow to be healthy, well-adjusted and self-sufficient adults.

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