Category Archives: Child Abuse

Research On Differential Response

The National Quality Improvement Center on Differential Response in Child Protective Services (QIC-DR) has released the final report from the Cross-Site Evaluation on Differential Response. Differential Response (DR) represents a different way of structuring a state’s child protective services system (CPS). DR allows CPS agencies to respond differently to child abuse and neglect based on the level of risk and needs of the family without compromising child safety. It is sometimes referred to as “dual track,” “multiple response system,” “alternative response,” and “family assessment response” in various jurisdictions. Lower risk cases may be directed to an alternate path while more serious cases will still be evaluated under the more traditional investigative response (IR).

The research represents the fourth major evaluation report coming out of the QIC-DR this year, following three individual site evaluation reports from Colorado, Illinois and Ohio. All of the reports are available on the website, under the “evaluation” tab. On Tuesday, July 29th from 12:00-1:30PM ET, Marc Winokur, Social Work Research Center, School of Social Work Colorado State University; Raquel Ellis, Westat; and Ida Drury, Colorado Department of Human Services, will be presenting a free webinar on the findings from their study of Differential Response in five counties in Colorado. Space is limited, so sign up early by visiting the website.

Part of the conclusion of the report states,

“In two of the three QIC-DR sites, the entire CPS system was impacted by the introduction of the new AR pathway. Most of the changes observed in Colorado’s and Ohio’s implementations of DR were not reserved for AR (alternate response) families, but rather the modifications became embedded into child welfare systems for all CPS families. The AR pathway, like the IR pathway, is guided by procedures and policies, and influenced by the skills and characteristics of caseworkers.

Although AR might be considered to be merely an alternative to IR, as its name implies, a fully implemented DR system may have deep impacts upon the community and its families; the CPS workforce; the policies, practices, and procedures guiding child protection casework; and the child welfare agency mandate. These impacts may not be solely in terms of different outcomes for those who have come to the attention of CPS, but rather may widen the reach and influence of CPS to other families who may be at risk or vulnerable. DR may indeed reshape the core mission of CPS.”

Some states have implemented their DR practices under more rigorous evaluation including the states of Ohio and Minnesota which included random control studies designs. There is no federal regulation or definitions as states implement this approach but the QIC-DR was a five year project funded by HHS and intended to help in that process.

Commission on Child Deaths Goes to Florida

The Commission To Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities conducted a second field hearing last Thursday, July 10 when they went to Tampa Florida. The Commission heard from both Florida officials as well as national experts. Panelists included Interim Secretary Mike Carroll, Florida Department of Children and Families, Dr. Celeste Philip, Florida Department of Health, Richard Barth, University of Maryland, and Howard Davidson, of the American Bar Association among several others. The topics included child protective services involvement with child deaths, using child welfare administrative data to protect vulnerable children, the use of predictive analytics and the issue of confidentiality.

Much of the discussion focused on what data and research tells us about the most likely cases of child fatalities and strategies that might be built into prevention efforts based on that information. The afternoon focused on some of the challenges the state of Florida has experienced with rising numbers of child deaths and how different Florida communities are implementing different practices resulting in more effective results. Emily Putnam-Hornstein, PhD, Children’s Data Network, University of Southern California, provided an overview of child protection and child fatalities data. Her presentation indicated that annual estimates of children reported for abuse and neglect understate how many children are involved with child protection over time and that what we think of as a relatively rare event is much more common than has been indicated. Citing recent studies, she said that while one in 100 US children are substantiated annually as being victims of child abuse, one in eight children (12.5%) have been confirmed as a victim by age 18. The prevalence for black children is 20.9%. She also indicated that after adjusting for other risk factors at birth, a previous report to CPS (regardless of disposition) emerged as the strongest predictor of injury or death during a child’s first five years of life.

That and other similar comments set the stage for a series of witnesses who discussed data-driven strategies that could assist in pinpointing the greatest risks. Certain characteristics are more likely to be present in child fatalities, characteristics such as the presence of substance abuse, the presence of a “paramour” or an unrelated adult in the family and other common factors such as water-related and sleeping-related deaths are more likely to be found in these cases. The data discussions include ways to match child welfare related data such as NDACAN (National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect) and the foster care SACWIS (Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System) as well as health and birth related data. There was also a great deal of discussion regarding the use of predictive analytics—a methodology that is becoming a buzz word within the human services field—that attempts to use statistical data and mining of the information to determine the most effective policies and strategies.

A significant part of the Commission time was devoted to the state of Florida and the differences in child deaths between jurisdictions and what different practices within the state might be effecting why some areas are more successful than other areas in preventing child deaths. In March the, Miami Herald ran an extensive report: Innocents Lost which highlighted the increasing numbers of child deaths, particularly those children that had previously been know to the child protection and child welfare system.

Last month the Commission held a hearing in the state of Texas, the state with the highest number of child fatalities in each of the last five years according to NCANDS data. Florida has had the second highest number of child deaths for four of the past five years. The five states with the highest rates of child deaths per 100,000 children in 2012 were: New Mexico, Colorado, Idaho, Louisiana, and Florida.

The next and third field hearing scheduled for the Commission is scheduled for August 28 in Detroit, MI.
To obtain more information about the Commission go to its website which has a link for submitting comments, the latest news reports on child deaths within states, event schedules and other information on the Commission and its actions.

Senate Looks At Children’s Service Gaps, Trafficking & “ReHoming”

On Tuesday, July 8, 2014, the Subcommittee on Children and Families of the Senate HELP Committee held a hearing on “Falling Through the Cracks: The Challenges of Prevention and Identification in Child Trafficking and Private Re-homing”

Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC) opened the hearing with remarks that focused on two key goals: prevention and identification in regard to both issues. In the first, addressing the issue of trafficking, she said that the victims are frequently “hiding in plain sight” in our schools and other common areas. She also raised the need for training saying that currently there is very little information and training for key personnel found in the schools, among health care providers and within social services community. Her comments heavily emphasized the need to better train and involve education and health care systems. Senator Hagan then discussed the issue of “re-homing” a term that came into focus after some recent reports by the Reuters News Service along with NBC News focusing on instances whereby a parent or parents placed their adopted child through the use of the internet into another home, frequently in unsafe circumstances.

Senator Hagan was joined by Ranking Member Mike Enzi (R-WY) who indicated he was interested in learning more on both topics with a focus on what the federal role should or could be in addressing either challenge. The witnesses included: JooYeun Chang , Associate Commissioner, Children’s Bureau, HHS, Abigail English , Director, Center for Adolescent Health & the Law, Chapel Hill, NC , Jenee’ Littrell , Grossmont Union High School District, San Diego County, CA , Megan Twohey , Investigative Reporter, Thomson Reuters, News

In her remarks Commissioner Chang outlined what HHS has done in regard to the re-homing issue, indicating that states have been advised to examine their child abuse laws since some of the instances documented in the news series were cases of child abandonment or abuse. She also indicated that there was a need for more post-adoption services and that while there were some federal funds available it was a growing need. She also highlighted the efforts of HHS to encourage states to build capacity, training and screening in regard to the issue of trafficking.

Abigail English, from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) highlighted the recent report by the IOM released last fall, Confronting Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking of Minors in the United States. She indicated that the committee made the recommendations into three principles 1) trafficking should be understood as abuse, 2) they should not be considered criminals and 3) when you’re identifying victims of sex trafficking do no harm. She described the diverse background of those children who are victims with a range of incomes, race, geography, histories of sexual abuse, gender identity issues, unstable housing, substance abuse-related backgrounds, homelessness, juvenile justice and foster care histories.

Jenee’ Littrell from the San Diego high school district, talked about the efforts that that school system has implemented across several schools, partnerships between law enforcement, human services and the private sector. She testified that there strategy has four key components: 1) increased staff awareness and education on the indicators and the nature of the crime; 2) increased parent and student awareness of the risks and realities of trafficking; 3) clearly articulated district policy and protocol for identifying a suspected victim or responding to a disclosure from a suspected victim; and 4) strong working partnerships with law enforcement, child welfare, probation and social service agencies.

Megan Twohey , Investigative Reporter, Thomson Reuters, re-caped her earlier investigation that identified more than 260 instances where children were being “rehomed,. a term borrowed from the animal world with people attempting to place a pet in another home through the use of the internet. Twohey said, “We discovered that over this five-year period, in this one forum alone, a child was offered to strangers on average once a week. The activity spanned the nation: Children in 34 states had been advertised. Many were transferred from parents in one state to families in another. At least 70 percent had been adopted from overseas, and many were said to suffer from physical, emotional or behavioral problems.”

In regard to the issue of re-homing, members struggled with solutions curious as to whether adoptive families should be singled out or how to change and require changes I regard to state family law which varies in regard to the rights of families and the placement of their own children,

To read the testimony or view the hearing go to Subcommittee on Children and Families and to read the HHS guidance on how to address re-homing go to IM-14-02.

House Subcommittee Looks At Child Abuse Issues On Spirit Lake Reservation

Just before Congress broke for the July 4 holiday, the House Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs of the Natural Resources Committee exercised its jurisdictional authority to conduct a hearing on recent child welfare and child abuse problems on the Spirit Lake reservation. Spirit Lake is an Indian reservation of approximately 6,600 residents lying within the North Dakota boarders. In recent years it has captured some national attention with a series of child deaths and the complaints of a whistleblower who has alleged abuses in regard to child protection and the operation of the child welfare system including foster care. As a result the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) stepped in and conducted an audit in 2012 which said the conditions at Spirit Lake posed an “imminent danger” to children in foster-care homes on the reservation, and those children referred to by the tribe’s child-welfare agency. The hearing was organized at the request of subcommittee member and North Dakota Congressman Kevin Cramer (R-ND).

Child welfare and child abuse circumstances are more complicated on Tribal land due to a confluence of factors that include a mix of law enforcement jurisdictions involving the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the FBI and others, the high level of poverty on some reservations, all against a backdrop of historic discrimination sometimes carrier out as a national policy. With both the BIA and the Children’s Bureau (HHS) stepping in, there are claims that circumstances have not improved over the past two years.

The two panels during the hearing included Michael S. Black, Director, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Joo Yeun Chang, Associate Commissioner Children’s Bureau, HHS, Leander R. McDonald, PhD, Chairman Spirit Lake Tribe Fort Totten, North Dakota, Molly McDonald, Devils Lake, ND, Anita Fineday JD, Managing Director Indian Child Welfare Program, Casey Family Programs.

Mr Black said that it was “important to focus on Spirit Lake because it is an example of the serious challenges that many Indian reservations are facing.’ He went on to say that with limited resources, “challenges remain in Indian country and in many states., “ He went on to document recent cuts including those imposed through sequestration cutting over $6.2 million from BIA Human Services and $17 million from BIA Public Safety and Justice. He then went on to detail what actions the Tribe has taken to address the situation saying that they have not hide from increased scrutiny, including the use of BIA and Justice Department reviews and assistance.

Commissioner Chang spoke to some of the work of the Children’s Bureau indicating that between 2007 and 2014, ACF was involved in four reviews of the Spirit Lake Tribal Social Services department. They have also held listening sessions with various stakeholders to get a better understanding of the challenges and issues. The sessions included representatives from the Spirit Lake tribal child welfare system, including current and former social workers, current and former juvenile judges, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) staff, school district staff, North Dakota state and county human services staff, and law enforcement.

Mr. Leander McDonald outlined the challenges he is facing as they try and make changes. He highlighted the vast shortages in staffing, staff training, equipment, data capacity. He went on to say, “As Chairman, I have come to realize the complexity of this issue and the need for our law enforcement, child protection services, tribal court, and tribal social services to communicate and work together to create an exemplary system. All of the areas have been historically underfunded at approximately 60% of need resulting in a lack of capacity, inadequate services, system distrust, and gaps in the system. We struggle to provide the most basic services, but we have achieved milestones in a positive direction. I believe that given the proper resources we could build a good system for our Nation.”

In addition to Mr. McDonald’s comments, Molly McDonald, a former Associate/Juvenile Judge who served on the reservation give examples of the systematic abuses she saw and experienced in her work on the reservation.

As part of his opening remarks and comments to the panelists, Subcommittee Chairman Donald Young (R-AK) said that he wants to see progress in the work of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Children’s Bureau and if he didn’t there might be another hearing in six months implying legislative action. For the testimony and a copy of the hearing go to: Child Protection and the Justice System on the Spirit Lake Indian Reservation