Child Maltreatment and Abuse – A Predictor Agencies are Using Prediction to Prevent

According to 2011 data,  12.5 percent of children under the age of 18 are abused or neglected in the United States each year.  A Facts on Youth brief from the Center for Health and Justice at TASC cites a study published in JAMA Pediatrics that found confirmed maltreatment for 1 in 8 youth, with nearly 6 percent of cases  (just less than half of confirmed reports) involving children ages 5 and under.  The brief also notes that studies of child abuse and maltreatment that rely on self-reports rather than substantiated reports indicate a rate of up to 40 percent.

The Child Trends brief Preventing Violence: Understanding and addressing determinants of youth violence in the United States reviewed relevant research on interventions and policy approaches to reducing youth violence, with an emphasis on individual, family and school/community factors.  This review identified several predictors of violence, including domestic violence, dysfunctional parenting, gun availability, low self-control, and lack of connectedness to school.  Child maltreatment, however, was a strong predictor of nearly every type of violence.  The prevention of child abuse and provision of interventions to address the impact of such trauma appear to be critical actions in reducing the potential of future violence.  That said, although child maltreatment is a risk factor for criminal behavior, the longer term negative effects of that experience may be offset or amplified by other life events. Completing high school/getting a GED and getting married were two factors identified by a research team at the Social Development Research Group at the University of Washington as having a positive impact on a person’s life, thus reducing the power of the relationship between the maltreatment and future high risk behaviors.  A history of maltreatment combined with additional risk factors, such as poverty, increases the likelihood of criminal behavior.

As safety and health are essential factors in optimal child development, and may affect a multitude of life outcomes, new strategies have emerged to better identify and “triage” high-risk situations.  States are turning to the big data playbook to assist in investigations of abuse and maltreatment, using predictive analysis to help prioritize reports and better provide preventive services. Information such as family history, school reports and other administrative data, plus case officer knowledge, gives child welfare decision-makers more (if not necessarily better) data to guide the use of resources for the protection of children. Along with Connecticut, Florida, and Los Angeles County, Allegheny County here in western Pennsylvania is utilizing predictive analytics in an effort to reduce child maltreatment, abuse, and fatalities.  For more information on how predictive analysis is being used in child welfare, see Who will Seize the Child Abuse Prediction Market by Darian Woods and Checklists, Big Data and the Virtues of Human Judgement by Holden Slattery, both in The Chronicle of Social Change.


Ensuring an Education for Confined Juveniles

Earlier this week, the heads of the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Education appeared at the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center School for the joint release of a guidance package aimed at improving the quality of education for youths in juvenile justice facilities.  The package lays out best practices for the provision of educational programming to confined juveniles, and includes

  • guiding principles for education in secure juvenile facilities,
  • a clarification letter on agency obligations around providing an appropriate education to youths with disabilities who are confined in juvenile justice facilities,
  • a clarification letter on how federal civil right laws apply to educational services in juvenile justice facilities, and
  • an explanation of federal student aid that may be available for eligible youth in the juvenile justice system.

Research supports the link between higher education and a reduced risk of recidivism, so ensuring that the right of an education extends to youths in the juvenile justice system (and with it the possibility of a post-secondary education) may result in lower criminal justice system costs in the future.  The 2014 report Just Learning: The Imperative to Transform Juvenile Justice Systems into Effective Educational Systems from the Southern Education Foundation suggests that juvenile justice initiatives that work to prevent youth from re-offending could save society at least $2 million – and as much as $3.8 million – per youth over a decade.

You can read more about the costs and outcomes of the juvenile justice system in a 2011 post on juvenile incarceration.

The Complex and Lasting Impact of Community Violence

For over a decade The Urban Institute has tracked the long term impacts for families relocated by the Chicago Housing Authority to make way for their removal of public housing complexes throughout the city. The relocated residents report better housing and neighborhood quality since the move.  For youth however, the improved living environment does not appear to have had a transformative effect on their lives.

According to the brief, Chronic Violence: Beyond the Developments, follow-up data from 2011 indicate that children in the new housing (voucher-enabled private rentals or refurbished public housing) were not attending higher quality schools and were still living in neighborhoods with nearly half of the residents below the poverty line. Parental reports of negative behavior and delinquent activity were similar to the baseline data of youth in the public housing complexes.  In addition, academic performance remained a concern, with approximately 33 percent of the teenagers not in the appropriate grade for their age and about 66 percent unengaged in school or work activities.

Authors Chantal Hailey and Megan Gallagher discuss the presence and patterns of neighborhood violence as a continuing factor risk factor in the lives of these families, even after relocation, specifically the impact it has upon youth in the form of continued exposure to trauma, a nomadic lifestyle, and avoidance or isolation.  The researchers at The Urban Institute recommend intensive case management services for the relocated families in Chicago, with the hope that such intervention would improve future outcomes.

The impact of neighborhood violence on youth can be devastating, both in perceived and actual threats of physical harm, the psychological toll of anxiety, and the impact of traumatic events on a child’s development. It should be noted that research identified similar problems for youth in “rough” neighborhoods from a sample that included families above the poverty line.  Addressing the long-lasting impacts of community violence in a meaningful manner is challenging as both the context of the violence witnessed and gender differences in coping techniques may lessen responsiveness to standardized interventions “proven” in another city.  The mixed perception of the outside “experts” (school officials, teachers, social workers, counselors, police, etc.) by community members may also serve as a obstacle in forming a partnership to reduce youth and adult violence.  There is not a single policy nor intervention that will be able to  neutralize or remove every risk factor, but based on the results of various initiatives across the country,  a combination of behavioral interventions and police strategies may prove effective going forward.

New Findings from Juvenile Offender Study Suggest Patterns of Criminality not Predictable

The Pathways to Desistance study is a large-scale, longitudinal study that followed a cohort of juvenile offenders (all found guilty of a felony or serious criminal offense) from the Phoenix, Arizona and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania areas into young adulthood (up to seven years post adjudication).  The principal researcher, Edward P. Mulvey, of the University of Pittsburgh, recently published a brief discussing some of the updated findings from the study.  Highlights include:

  • The trajectory of a youth’s future criminal activity cannot be predicted by the type of offense that brought him or her to the attention of the court.
  • Institutional placement of an adjudicated juvenile does not decrease recidivism and in some cases may increase the risk of re-arrest.
  • Substance abuse treatment is linked to better outcomes for youth offenders, but it may not be available or of the intensity and/or duration required.

The policy implications of these, and other,  findings are discussed in the National Juvenile Justice Network’s September 2012 brief, Emerging Findings and Policy Implications from the Pathways to Desistance Study.

What (if any) impact will these findings have on justice system policies?  Given the school-to-prison pipeline investigation(s), will the data on recidivism and incarceration influence a slightly less legalistic approach to maintaining order in public schools?  What is it about quality substance abuse treatment that has a stronger impact on juvenile re-offending than the fear returning to a correctional institution?