Tuesday, October 13, 2015

DCF to Become Big Brother

As with everything nowadays, all problems can be $olved with computer analytics:

"Can analytics help fix the DCF?" by Michael Levenson Globe Staff  October 07, 2015

TAMPA — As Massachusetts embarks once again on an effort to fix its troubled child welfare agency, debate has swirled around nuts-and-bolts solutions such as more staffing and updated policies. But increasingly, child welfare professionals around the country are turning to sophisticated computer models to help them predict which children are most likely to suffer abuse. Those households then get closer scrutiny.

The approach, known as predictive analytics, has already swept through the corporate, sports, and political worlds. It helps Netflix know which movies its customers want, Olive Garden forecast when it will need extra staff, and baseball teams predict what a pitcher is likely to throw next.

Yup, that's the kind of model for government I want, yup!

Now, building on the computer system pioneered in Hillsborough County, five states, including Maine and Connecticut, as well as Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, are adopting similar models for their child protective services. Massachusetts is also considering the approach, according to Linda Spears, commissioner of the state Department of Children and Families, who called analytics intriguing but relatively untested.

Supporters see data-driven predictions as a new frontier that could help overwhelmed social workers prioritize the most important cases and target scarce services to the children most at risk. We've reached a point where there is really no point in continuing.

We have a state that $howers tax loot on well-connected corporations and concerns, that is near the top when it comes to income inequality and the like, supposedly has a better-than-average economy, and yet can't find enough money to care for the children. 


You know, deep blue and all that(??).

In Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa, no children in the child welfare system have died from abuse since January 2013, when the county launched its system, called Rapid Safety Feedback, to focus attention on the children who need it most.

That is a dramatic improvement from the previous two years, when nine children with open abuse cases in the county were killed, including a 4-month-old who was thrown from a car onto the highway. 

I suppose we could learn a lot from Florida, 'eh?

“It’s completely revamped what they’ve done,” said David Sanders, chairman of the federal Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities, which is poised to recommend the Hillsborough County model to Congress in March. “They immediately know who is at higher risk of a fatality, and have a different approach and greater support for the workers. It really is targeting resources to those families who are at risk.”

In the case of the 2-year-old who needed seizure medication, she was automatically flagged by the computer system because she was under 3, her mother was young, there was a history of neglect in the home, and she was not in day care, meaning there was no one outside the family keeping an eye on her. Those are common factors in many child abuse cases.

“All this does is say you should look at it, have a heightened review, and a second set of eyes,” said Bryan Lindert, senior quality director at Eckerd, the nonprofit agency that developed the system.

But critics say that allowing a computer model to determine which children should be more closely tracked by protective services represents an Orwellian expansion of government power. They point out that newer computer systems, like the one about to be launched in Allegheny County, can base their predictions on vast tracts of data mined from the criminal justice, Medicaid, and drug treatment systems.

Hey, it's the $urveillance $tate being set up in the name of the children on the assumption that the dismal failure (or worse, pedophile abuse facilitator) that is the state could do better, but you aren't against children, are you? 

Critics worry that African-American, Hispanic, and poor parents could have their children unfairly targeted for removal or monitoring merely because the computer models suggest their race, incomes, or criminal records make them more likely to commit child abuse in the future.

Well, I'm not going to argue computer models and what they get wrong right now, but in the name of the children (never you mind all the Arab and Muslim children being butchered by the EUSraeli empire).

“It scares the bejeezus out of me,” said Witold Walczak, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. “That should scare anybody. It’s like putting a name into a machine and making a determination about whether that person can have their child or not.”

Welcome to a Brave New World.

Officials who embrace the model say they use the predictions only to help them decide which children merit closer scrutiny, one of the most difficult decisions they face.

“It’s a little bit scary” how haphazardly child welfare workers currently decide which abuse reports to investigate, said Rhema Vaithianathan, a health economist at Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand, who is building the computer model for Allegheny County. “So, given that, we have an obligation to make the best-informed decision.”

Still, she acknowledged a danger in giving workers a computer-generated “risk score” to help them assess complex and volatile families.

“Humans like shortcuts, so when they see this number they might short-circuit their own professional judgment,” she said.

What judgement?

In Hillsborough County, officials developed their computer model by studying 1,500 local child abuse cases, including the nine children who died. The review showed the cases often involved a young child, a boyfriend in the home, drug use or domestic violence, and a parent who had been in foster care as a child.

Now, any time an abuse case matches those factors, it is singled out by the computer system and subjected to a regular review by a quality assurance team, which scrutinizes the response by the front-line social workers.

How does more layers of bureaucracy help because it never has, not throughout all history. In fact, it usually spells doom for a society.

“We’ve been able to narrow down which cases are high risk, and stop doing cookie-cutter supervision,” said Paul Penhale, a case management supervisor at Gulf Coast Jewish Family & Community Services.

I'm not going to say it.

In Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh, officials are pushing the model further, foreshadowing the seemingly boundless ways that data can be used to reshape the child welfare field.

Don't let them confuse you.

Starting later this year, when a call comes into the child abuse hotline there, call screeners will enter the alleged perpetrator’s name, address, or Social Security number into a computer.

The computer will then instantly search dozens of records — not only for that person, but for others in the household.

The person will then be assigned a higher “risk score” if they or others in the home have a criminal record, have been in drug or alcohol rehab, have received mental health counseling, have been in prison, or were in the child welfare system when they were young. The system can also access school records, so frequent absences will raise a red flag.

Maybe you should start with the football teams.

Allegheny County is building the system because several children there died after calls reporting abuse were “screened out” as too vague, said Marc Cherna, the county director of human services.

Researchers later determined that if the perpetrators’ identifying information had been entered into the computer system, they would have been given a high “risk score,” and “screened in” for an investigation.

“It’s a tool to make sure we are actually seeing everybody who needs to be seen,” Cherna said.

Researchers say risk scores would be even more powerful if they were used to help parents who have never been accused of abuse, a fairly radical concept sure to trigger concerns about government overreach.

It's 2015, not 1984.

Cherna said Allegheny County could, for example, identify young mothers who have used drugs and are former foster children, factors that make their children statistically more likely to suffer from abuse. Officials could then recommend that they receive in-home nurses’ visits.

Maybe that would be a good thing seeing the overdose epidemic; I don't have any answers for you anymore, folks. This Gordian knot the PTB have tied is beyond me. All I know is this government and it's mouthpiece media have been leading us in the wrong direction and its time to stop following. Call it knee-jerk negativity if you want, I don't care. If they say go this way, then go that way!

As for the nurses, can I see a credential?

Some say officials could intervene even earlier.

Because research has shown that a woman’s age, lack of prenatal care, and level of education are among the predictors that her child will be abused by age 5, “prenatal risk assessments could be used to identify children at risk of maltreatment while still in the womb,” Emily Putnam-Hornstein and Barbara Needell, of the University of California-Berkeley, wrote in a 2011 paper.

If those pregnant women were then targeted for prenatal care or free parenting classes, it could prevent abuse years down the line, researchers say.

“Yes, it’s Big Brother,” Vaithianathan said. “But we have to have our eyes open to the potential of this model.”

It's all for the children, and you aren't against children.... are you?


"DCF’s new strategy could see more families split up; Balance between children’s safety, family stability is perennial challenge" by Michael Levenson Globe Staff  October 12, 2015

Governor Charlie Baker has made it clear that he believes the balance has tilted too far in one direction.

“DCF’s fundamental purpose is to keep kids safe,” he declared at a recent news conference. “Let me repeat that: The work that will be done from this point forward will focus on one major objective: to keep kids safe.”

While some applaud that intent, others said it could lead to more children being separated from their parents and placed in foster care, even without proof the children are being abused.

That has been the pattern after major crises have hit the child welfare departments in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and other cities, said Martin Guggenheim, a specialist in child welfare at New York University School of Law.

There was also a sudden spike in children being removed from their homes in Massachusetts last year, when DCF workers came under intense pressure to eliminate any risk of abuse following the disappearance of Jeremiah Oliver, a Fitchburg boy who was being monitored by the agency and whose body was later discovered on the side of a highway.

“Children should be in foster care when it is necessary, but only when it is necessary,” Guggenheim said. “If it ends up meaning we’re going to remove children more commonly, we will be dooming hundreds or thousands of children as a result.”

Baker’s declaration to focus squarely on safety followed a recent spate of children’s deaths and sparked a debate among child welfare advocates.

They point out that nearly 90 percent of the children with open DCF cases are being monitored at home or have a plan to return home, meaning family preservation is an inherently vital piece of the agency’s mission.

And the recent case of Avalena Conway-Coxon, a 2-year-old who died of heat stroke in an Auburn foster home that was improperly licensed by DCF shows the foster care system itself is no guarantee of safety, some said.

In addition, a 2007 Massachusetts Institute of Technology study found that children ages 5 to 16 who were removed from their homes and sent to foster care had higher delinquency rates and teen birth rates and lower earnings than children from similarly troubled families who remained at home.

Mike Dsida, deputy chief counsel at the state public defender agency, said he was concerned Baker’s comments did not recognize that children can be kept safely in their homes if the parents are given appropriate support.

“It’s always about balancing the risks, and the risks aren’t only on one side of the equation,” said Dsida, whose agency represents parents and children in DCF cases. “Children don’t always thrive in foster care with strangers.”

But Peter MacKinnon, president of the union that represents DCF social workers, praised Baker for initiating what he called an important philosophical shift. MacKinnon said DCF has leaned too heavily on a “family preservation model” since 2009, when the agency launched a system designed to separate high-risk and low-risk cases.

The high-risk cases, which involve allegations of serious physical or sexual abuse, are referred to social workers who investigate the safety of the child, while the lower-risk cases, which involve neglect, are given to social workers charged with strengthening families.

“The pendulum swung too far, not out of ill intent, and we needed to get back to the middle,” MacKinnon said. And unlike past governors who promised to focus on safety but did not act on their rhetoric, he said, Baker is moving swiftly to rewrite policies.

The new rules, for instance, will require more thorough supervision of complex cases and criminal background checks in all cases of parents accused of abuse or neglect. Currently, the agency conducts those checks about 70 percent of the time.

Still, it remains to be seen if the governor will fundamentally shift the agency’s mission, said Elizabeth Bartholet, a Harvard Law School professor who argued that such a change would require an overhaul of the policy that separates high-risk and low-risk cases.

“Simply saying safety is our priority is what everybody always says,” Bartholet said. “Without specifics, DCF is never going to do that on its own.”

Baker insisted last month his comments were not an attempt to de-emphasize family preservation but to clear up “mission confusion” at DCF. Commissioner Linda Spears said the department had in the past considered protecting children and keeping families together as two contradictory goals.

“For me, you don’t do one or the other,” she said last month. “You keep children safe, first and foremost. And then, if that can be done by strengthening a family, great. If it can’t, no.”


Why not just turn all our kids over to the nanny state?


"Medical director appointed to oversee complex DCF cases" by Michael Levenson Globe Staff  October 13, 2015

DCF has been under pressure to hire a medical director since 2006, when two high-profile cases showed how parents managed to manipulate the medical system while under the agency’s watch.

In one of those cases, Rebecca Riley, a 4-year-old Hull girl, was killed by an overdose of psychotropic drugs. In the other case, an 11-year-old Westfield girl, Haleigh Poutre, nearly died of overlooked long-term physical abuse.

Related: Wrapping Up the Riley Case 

After public outrage, two blue-ribbon panels proposed a list of changes aimed at giving the agency a fresh start; one of the steps was to hire a physician to help the agency better understand the medical challenges faced by abused and neglected children.

I feel like I've seen this before.

But the department never filled the position, in part because it was difficult to recruit a doctor willing to take on such a demanding job, advocates said, when the Legislature funded it only as a part-time position with a $75,000 salary.

So where did that money actually go (the job now pays $195k)?

DCF’s lack of a medical director erupted as an issue again last year in the case of Justina Pelletier, a teenager who was at the center of a highly charged custody battle that arose from a diagnostic dispute between two Boston hospitals.

See: Pelletier Case Ends With Positive Conclusion  

Or did it

Should have went with the Amish or moved to Ohio.

“We wanted to do better, going back to the Haleigh Poutre case a number of years ago,” DCF commissioner Linda Spears said Tuesday. “We’re really excited that we’re finally able to make this move.”


They are "filling a key position nearly a decade after a pair of tragedies involving children under the agency’s watch drew widespread attention [and it is] an important milestone."