What can we learn about at-risk kids to create more positive child welfare outcomes?


“What we do to our children they will do to society.”

Greek philosopher Pliny the Elder said that more than 2,000 years ago, and it’s just as true today. In 2013, more than 600,000 children in the US were confirmed victims of maltreatment in the home, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families.

Source: The State of America’s Children – Children’s Defense Fund
Source: The State of America’s Children – Children’s Defense Fund

Of course, this does not account for the thousands, even millions, of unreported cases. What toll will this take on our society in the future?

I’ve taken a keen interest in child welfare, and as I’ve talked to leaders in child protective services departments and those in the trenches, it’s become very personal for me. This week, I am at the Child Welfare League of America 2015 National Conference to learn more about how that organization gives a powerful voice to the most vulnerable individuals in our society.

I have challenged my team to become a tireless force for child welfare. We know that the data exists for us to apply analytics to know more about the factors and relationships that lead to positive and negative outcomes for kids.

This requires government to take a longitudinal view of data and focus efforts where kids are most affected. And it should be a focus on quality, in areas such as education, health care (physical and mental), social programs and public safety.

Government tends to look at cost first. If we improve quality, cost improvements will follow. This will be in the forms of reduced recidivism, higher employment, fewer people on public assistance and better public services and safety.

Social workers on the front lines have such an important job and need our help

Even if things improve, child protective services workers will remain in the thick of the battle to save our kids. I recently met with a director of a county department of social services who impressed me greatly.

He told me his case workers want to be able to do what they learned in school. They want to take care of the kids and keep them safe. However, regulatory requirements and large caseloads make it difficult.  For instance, it would be helpful to have more information at their fingertips such as:

  • If a child is absent from school frequently
  • If they’ve changed schools multiple times
  • If a trauma assessment’s been done as a result of something in their current environment
  • If a current caregiver has a criminal background

Any and all of these could be indicative of an increase risk to a child.

The director says he would like as many data points as appropriate, governed by strict privacy and data sharing rules. Repeat maltreatments are all too common, and he believes helpful data would be found in areas such as juvenile justice, health care/pharmacy, education, absenteeism and a caregiver’s criminal history.

In addition, he’s worried about what happens to foster kids that age out. He would like to know which kids are at highest risk of aging out without finding a permanent home; and he’d like to know what happened to them. Did they end up in prison? Are they parents of the small kids now in his system? Or did they get good jobs and are thriving?

The data is out there to address his concerns and answer his questions. It’s there to help us save children, and put thousands more on paths to positive outcomes. I’m committed to helping this happen, and I will share more on this topic in the future.




About Author

Paula Henderson

Former Executive Vice President & Chief Sales Officer, Americas

Paula Henderson led teams across the Americas in industries such as government, financial services, health care, life sciences, consumer packaged goods, manufacturing, energy and telecommunications. She partnered with industry leaders to create transformational digital solutions designed to modernize and optimize the performance of corporations and communities.

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