How can data tell a story that keeps a child safe?

By

EY Americas

Multidisciplinary professional services organization

5 minute read 1 May 2018

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Through the application of advanced analytics, frontline social services staff can identify children at risk and intervene to keep them safe.

Safeguarding children is one of the most pressing challenges facing governments. Every day, hard-hitting stories of child protection failures hit the headlines in countries all over the world. They paint a grim picture: growing numbers of children at risk of abuse and neglect; an act of physical violence by a family member or caregiver that has resulted in the death of a child; more and more children being taken into care; and child protection systems in crisis due to systemic weaknesses, stretched to the limit through an acute lack of resources.

Global statistics bear out the scale of the problem. According to UNICEF, three-quarters of children aged two to four worldwide — close to 300 million — are regularly subjected to physical punishment or psychological aggression by their parents or other caregivers at home. The number of children entering out-of-home care (OOHC) has also risen steadily in many countries. Recent research estimates that approximately 2.7 million children could be living in institutional care worldwide. Worse, once a child with complex needs enters care, it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to leave the system.

The immediate impact of violence, abuse and neglect on children’s well-being is devastating enough. But in some cases, poor outcomes for children who have been in care continue through later life. Childhood trauma can limit educational performance and job prospects, lowering individuals’ life chances, reducing productivity in the workforce and putting significant strain on government finances.

The platform puts relevant information about a child in the hands of frontline staff, helping them make the right interventions at the right time.

Protecting children in New South Wales

The problem is acute in New South Wales, Australia. In the last decade, there has been a steady rise in the number of children needing protection services, including OOHC. The lack of evidence-based investment by the government and poor use of data meant that service delivery for child protection was often ineffective and reactive. Despite increased spending, long-term outcomes for children were poor and the cycle of intergenerational abuse and neglect continued.

Recent independent reviews have made a number of policy recommendations designed to create a more child-focused and personalized service system that is financially sustainable in the longer term. The state’s Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) is implementing major reforms to strengthen the system. The goal: more services and better outcomes for more children at risk and in care.

A new service design and cost model

The reforms aim to give children and young people the chance to have a safe, loving, permanent home for life, and help them reach their potential. This vision required a new service system design, supported by a service cost model that shifts funding from a child placement approach to one that focuses on outcomes.

The new service model and service costs are based on individual case plans for children and young people. Personalized support packages are provided based on regular assessments of the child’s changing needs, support from a key worker, flexibility in service provision and funding allocations, and ongoing support.

The new approach requires changes to the way the government funds service partners, such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs). New outcomes-based contracts have been developed and there will be a greater focus on helping families stay together using new intensive home-based family preservation and restoration models that target the causes of harm and treat trauma.

A single framework is being developed to define the desired outcomes, based on safety, permanency of care and a wider focus on child well-being. Over time, an investment approach will be adopted across all services to ensure that funding and evidence are aligned most effectively to well-being outcomes.

A new service system, enabled by IT

To realize the broader vision, FACS needed an information system that could support decision-making and improve collaboration among the network of family, caregivers, caseworkers and service providers. ChildStory replaces 14 disparate FACS legacy systems with a single cloud-based platform. It integrates, matches and merges data to provide a holistic, single view of every child and young person under care. Given the sensitivity, strict controls and protocols have been established to govern data sharing. Over time, data from other organizations will be migrated to the Child-Story platform.

The platform puts relevant information about a child in the hands of frontline staff, helping them make the right interventions at the right time. It also provides the means for service provider organizations, family and caregivers to access and share information, and improve collaboration among all those involved in the support of the child.

While New South Wales is still on the journey to transform its child protection system, the early indicators suggest that its recent reforms will go a long way toward preventing harm to vulnerable children, breaking the intergenerational cycle of abuse and neglect, improving life chances for children and young people, and optimizing resources at a time of huge pressure on public spending. Children, the wider economy and society will reap the benefits of today’s investment for generations to come.

EY’s Child Protection Intelligence Platform

Building on its work with the New South Wales’ FACS, EY’s Government and Public Sector team has developed the Child Protection Intelligence Platform. The platform collates data from multiple systems within an agency, or across multiple agencies, that come into contact with children and their families. Through the application of advanced analytics, frontline staff are able to identify children at higher risk and improve the effectiveness of interventions.

Our approach is contingent upon a whole-of-system view of investment in services for vulnerable children and families across agencies, in order to align expenditure with outcomes.

Summary

Safeguarding children is one of the most pressing challenges facing governments. Every day, hard-hitting stories of child protection failures hit the headlines in countries all over the world. Governments can invest in new approaches that enable authorities to take a single view of a vulnerable child’s data, leading to better decisions that can keep the child safe.  

About this article

By

EY Americas

Multidisciplinary professional services organization