Mixing predictive analytics with child welfare isn’t without controversy. The Chronicle of Social Change, an online news source, has published more than a dozen articles and blogs on the topic. The central tension, explains publisher Daniel Heimpel, is the concern that using “big data” could infringe on civil liberties and lead to racial profiling.
“The field of child welfare is still in the very early stages of experimenting with predictive analytics,” Heimpel writes, “so we will have to wait to see how good or bad this application of technology will be.”
Tamika Williams, associate director of the Child Care program area at The Duke Endowment, says she recognizes the sensitive nature of gathering data. In funding the work with SAS, “the Endowment has limited the scope of the project to already-available public data sources and using it only for open child welfare cases,” she says. “By participating in this way, this effort seeks to protect privacy while enhancing child safety.”
With the New Hanover County project launching this summer, it’s too early to measure its success. But SAS says that jurisdictions using predictive analytics on open cases have seen more than 50 percent reduction in child fatalities and more than 20 percent reduction in child abuse.
Brian Bocnuk believes this is the child welfare system of the future.
“This is the birth of a new opportunity,” he says. “It doesn’t take the place of the social worker, but it gives us the tools to make better decisions.”