Special Efforts Being Made in Florida to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities

DCF is working with SAS, a predictive analytics firm, to identify key risk factors for child abuse and neglect fatalities, in order to improve child welfare practices by using predictive analytics tools and techniques to confirm general trends in child fatalities and determine key risk factors, and to assist the DCF’s decision making process in alleviating chronic maltreatment. In August 2016, SAS delivered a lengthy technical report to DCF, claiming that the firm had developed the strongest child abuse prediction algorithm to date by focusing on the many adults in a child’s life who could be a threat. By mining these perpetrator networks, SAS says it was able to predict which adults were destined to become what it calls “chronic perpetrators.”   SAS says this development warrants “a radically different approach to child welfare” — one that flips the focus from a child’s risk of being abused to the adults in a child’s life who present the greatest threat. [Recommendation 6.1c]

In May 2017, the Harvard Kennedy School Government Performance Lab announced that it was granting DCF’s request for assistance to help ensure services provided or funded by the agency meet the complex needs of families in the child welfare system and reduce the prevalence of child fatalities in the state. The GPL will provide technical assistance in both the DCF’s Tallahassee office and the SunCoast regional office in Tampa on projects including examining strategies for reducing childhood fatalities, improving outcomes for families simultaneously receiving care from child welfare service providers and behavioral health service provides, and exploring opportunities to strengthen how DCF’s service array meets the needs of Florida’s high-risk children and families. [Recommendation 7.3]

Fla. Stat. § 39.2015 requires an immediate onsite investigation by a Critical Incident Rapid Response Team (CIRRT) for all child deaths reported to the Department of Children and Families, if the child or another child in his or her family was the subject of a verified report of abuse or neglect during the previous 12 months. These teams provide an immediate, multiagency investigation to identify root causes, rapidly determine the need to change policies and practices related to child protection, and improve Florida’s child welfare system. [6.2]

In January 2015, DCF Secretary Mike Carroll issued a directive that all child fatalities be formally reviewed based on a core set of data elements. This directive, which has subsequently been codified into department operating procedure, requires a quality assurance review on cases that involve families with child welfare history within the five years preceding the child’s death, regardless of findings; these reviews use a tool and process that mirrors the CIRRT review process and are commonly referred to as “mini-CIRRTs.” The directive also requires a limited review to be conducted by the region’s child fatality prevention specialist on cases that involve families with no prior history for the five years preceding the child’s death. Standardized data are collected across all review types and entered into a database for further analysis and review. [Recommendation 6.3, 5.3f] 

In its final report, the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities Reports recommended that states “publish child abuse and neglect fatality information on state public websites at least annually, similar to the approach in Florida.” Reviews conducted as a result of a child fatality (regardless of the type of review completed) are redacted according to statute and posted for public review on DCF’s Child Fatality Prevention website after the death investigation has been completed. The information is redacted based on whether or not the maltreatment death has been verified by DCF as a result of abuse or neglect. Reports listed on the website as “pending” are awaiting closure of the investigation and, at times, the medical examiner’s findings. [Recommendation 5.3f]

Florida’s Safer by 4 Campaign was launched statewide to further engage communities in assisting DCF with strategies to keep children ages 0-4 safe through education and public awareness. Primarily driven by social media, this campaign is aimed at eliminating preventable deaths to children ages 0-1 with whom the Department has had prior involvement. One aspect of the campaign brings together child care providers, child welfare professionals, physicians and state agencies to ensure safe environments for Florida's children ages 0–4 by encouraging parents to know the backgrounds and parenting skills of anyone who is watching their children. Other prevention campaigns focus on safe sleep, water safety, and high temperatures and hot cars campaigns . [Recommendation 7.2]

Effective January 3, 2017, DCF updated policy guidance regarding substance-exposed newborns to include adding a type of maltreatment specific to substance-exposed newborns, enhancing the definition of "substance exposed" to more clearly articulate when parental substance abuse poses a threat of harm to young children, and providing additional guidance in factors to consider for the maltreatment. [Recommendation 7.1l]

Local effort in Hillsborough County:  Florida’s Hillsborough County was one of the first in the nation to adopt Eckerd Rapid Safety Feedback®, a real-time data analytics tool to flag high-risk cases for intensive monitoring and caseworker coaching. Eckerd analyzed data from 1,500 open cases in Hillsborough County in which children were abused or neglected. From that data emerged a profile of cases with the highest probability of serious injury or death. The research also identified child welfare practice skills critical to keeping children in this high-risk category safe, including the importance of home visits.  [Recommendation 2.1, 6.1c]