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.


The Non-Predictive, Un-Trend Post for 2014

What will 2014 mean for nonprofits?


A perfect tweet to read today. It captures the exact reason why my post on nonprofit trends for 2014 has languished in USB limbo for over 2 weeks: there’s nothing new there.

So, rather than bore us all with a rehash of nonprofit issues and their related buzzwords, I’d rather share a few areas I’ll still be watching in 2014 from the experts who write about them:

Mobile. Yes, again.  Again and always. And by now nonprofits should have integrated mobile technology (or at least seriously discussed the logistics of doing so) into their daily operations/service delivery.

Take care of your Boomers. They are still the largest and most varied group of givers. According to Blackbaud, Boomers prioritize local social service organizations and places of worship for their donations and give through multiple channels.  Carolyn Appleton sees this group as continuing to lead in their philanthropic roles in2014, including in the area of planned giving. Hint hint, planned giving has seen an increase in mobile activity.

Data, Privacy and Transparency. Nearly anything Lucy Bernholz writes is among the best you will find on the topic.   Interested in predictions for 2014? Start here.

Although not exclusively a nonprofit issue, Hack your (Professional) Lack. Sitting in a few of the sessions at Pittsburgh Podcamp 8, I realized that I had been so busy connecting with potential  clients and starting new projects in 2012 – 2013 that I had neglected to keep up with the new apps, products, and basic shortcuts that might make running my own shop easier.  I’ll be sure to make the time for my own professional development going forward, absent my go-to responses that it’s “a full-time staff of me, myself and I” *grimace* or “blah, blah, work-family boundarieeees” and every other excuse in the bucket.

What are your predictions for nonprofits in 2014?  What lack might you hack this year? 



Photo Credit: M. Puzzanchera (Own Work) (CC By-NC-ND 3.0)

National Survey Response Rates Down – Will Big Data Fill the Gap?


An April 2013 briefing to Congress on surveys and statistics focused on the problematic trend of declining response rates for federal surveys, including the American Community Survey and the National Survey of Child Health. The briefing, Policy Makers & Businesses Need Reliable Information and Data: The Impact of Falling Response Rates to Social Surveys and What Can Be Done, organized by The American Academy of Political and Social Science (AAPSS), outlined the risks to research and the impact on policy-making if response rates to surveys on health, employment and household continue to subside. The largest risk is that of biased results. Other issues:

  • Nonresponse rates currently range from 30 to more than 60 percent. This is an all-time high.
  • Over 60 percent of nonresponses were refusals, while approximately another  1/4 were due to the inability to contact the intended recipient.
  • Young single-person households, minorities, renters and the poor were less likely to respond.
  • One-time surveys have higher nonresponse rates than more complex longitudinal studies that follow the same group of respondents over period of time.

While incentives (such as a gift card or a small amount of money) for completing and returning a survey would boost response rates, it would also increase costs – a risky proposition in an atmosphere of austerity.  The authors of a related paper, Where Do We Go from Here? Nonresponse and Social Measurementpublished in the January 2013 volume of AAPSS’s The Annals, suggest that a solution to this growing problem is a strategic outreach plan to inform both politicians and the public of the purpose of national surveys. Clear explanation of what the data is used for, as well as the regulations and protocols in place to protect it from being presented other than in aggregate form could have a favorable impact on perception.  Unfortunately for these and other large-scale surveys,  the recent news of metadata collected absent suspicion may have even the most tech-savvy survey-loving among us rethinking issues of privacy, transparency and information storage and retrieval.

Perhaps in the future these surveys that, by the way, inform funding decisions on infrastructure, education, and transportation to name a few, will be deemed too intrusive and/or obsolete and left behind.  Funding and other governing decisions can then be made based on variables extracted from all that we have uploaded onto the digital data heap.  So,  will big data replace big surveys?  Will traditional statistical methods be successful in tracking, analyzing and accurately reporting big data to inform policies at the federal, state and local level?