by Elizabeth Gibbons
Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer and Department for Children and Families Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel have announced their proposal to increase the budget on child welfare services by $16.5 million. This proposal comes on the back of news that the Kansas DCF is unable to fill open positions due to deficits in the salary budget. The DCF is under pressure to increase morale, increase trained field personnel, and provide better services for the children in their care amid sharp criticism of their foster care system. The most notable criticism is their lack of effective responses and the death of several children in foster homes. This increased budget, which was presented to law makers for review on Wednesday, January 10, will be used to hire more investigators, field workers, and social service workers, and to place children in homes more quickly so they do not sleep in DCF offices.
New York City’s Administration for Child Services has announced that retired law enforcement officers, who have worked as in-house advisors since 2007, will now assess the risk of new people moving into ACS households that are not under active investigation. The retired law enforcement officers, called Investigative Consultants, have backgrounds in domestic violence and give new eyes and new perspectives to changing family situations. This policy adds a new level of security that can help ensure the safety of children under the care or services of the ACS. Furthermore, it allows the ACS to address the intersection of domestic violence and child welfare.
The New York Administration for Child Services, in partnership with Food Bank for New York City, has opened an emergency, client-centered food pantry in the Bronx office of the ACS. This is the first food pantry to be located in the office itself. By providing high-quality, nutritious food for free, the ACS is working to lighten the load of families under investigation. As well as providing food, the food bank offers on-site education classes on cooking and nutrition. This Bronx neighborhood has the highest concentration of families involved with ACS and the highest levels of food insecurity. The ACS and the Food Bank for New York City worked with the families to determine what they needed, making this the first client-centered food pantry in the state. As of December 2017, they have distributed 32,287 pounds of food, serving 950 families and 2,400 children.
Two years ago, Allegheny County Department of Children, Youth, and Families in Pittsburgh became the first child protection agency to use a public predictive analytics program in their screening of at-risk families. After an allegation is reported, a social worker determines the need of an investigation. These screeners estimate the risk of a child’s well-being in a short span of time, based on limited information. Despite training and the best of intentions, theses decisions are subjective and rooted in biases, opinions, and miscommunication. The Allegheny Family Screening Tool (AFST), recently covered in the New York Times, is a predictive analytics program that compiles all available data from public records, digitized archives, previous child protective reports, and police records to determine the risk of abuse or mistreatment. Social service workers and call screeners do not have the time or resources to comb through such data manually, making this algorithm a critical component in the decision-making process. Allegheny County owns the AFST; thus, it is a public entity, completely non-profit and transparent. An independent ethics review showed that the use of such an algorithm was ethical and less bias than human screeners. It should be emphasized that this program does not replace clinical judgment, nor does it make the choice to investigate. It makes the screening process more objective and allows child protective services to use their staffing and financial resources more efficiently while helping the families most at risk. Child protection agencies across the United States are beginning to implement similar programs in the hope of making their work more effective.