Data Analytics and Child Protection in Los Angeles | The Chronicle of Social Change

On Wednesday, July 22, Los Angeles County’s recently formed Office of Child Protection will hold a community forum to discuss the simultaneously disquieting and promising prospect of using “big data” to help determine which children are the most likely to be abused.

The question of whether child welfare agencies should apply a statistical discipline called “predictive analytics,” which uses data to infer what may happen in the future, has sparked a now global debate weighing civil liberties, racial profiling and the alluring potential of accurately directing limited public funds to better protect children. Despite the understandable fears that come with applying an algorithm to the very human question of family dysfunction versus family strength, evidence from its use in other child welfare administrations shows promise.

via Data Analytics and Child Protection in Los Angeles | The Chronicle of Social Change.

What’s J.K. Rowling Doing to Help Vulnerable Kids Avoid Institutional Care? – Inside Philanthropy: Fundraising Intelligence

It appears that Harry Potter books bring the power of “Lumos” to the world in more ways than one. While research suggests that young people who read the Harry Potter books are more tolerant and compassionate, and while the books have sprouted a millennial-style fandom nonprofit called the Harry Potter Alliance, the greatest contribution to human progress may be coming directly from the author, J.K. Rowling, and her profound understanding of the disservice that institutionalization does to children—and how we need to move away from it as a model to address emotional, behavioral, and social problems.

Rowling recently came to New York to announce the start of Lumos USA, the new U.S.-based outpost of the nonprofit she founded in 2005. The goal of Lumos is to redirect the care of disadvantaged children away from group homes and orphanages, and find more ways to support them, and their families, in the community. Its target is the 8 million children worldwide who are cared for in institutions.

via What’s J.K. Rowling Doing to Help Vulnerable Kids Avoid Institutional Care? – Inside Philanthropy: Fundraising Intelligence – Inside Philanthropy.

How the Fund for Shared Insight is Supporting a Feedback Loop on Foster Youth – Children | Youth | Grants – Inside Philanthropy

The Fund for Shared Insight is a new collaborative effort of seven foundations coming together to back “feedback loops” to improve the social sector. The idea is that nonprofits need to do a better job of listening to the people they serve and incorporate that feedback in how they operate. Corporations vacuum up feedback from their customers all the time to improve performance—”please stay on the line to take a short survey”—but the nonprofit sector has been slow to do this kind of thing. Shared Insight hopes to get the ball rolling in a big way.

via How the Fund for Shared Insight is Supporting a Feedback Loop on Foster Youth – Children | Youth | Grants – Inside Philanthropy.

Help a Child’s Dream Live On

Every so often, I find a story that really touches me in the news.  One that isn’t full of violence, destruction or hatred. Although the story of Matthew McIntyr’s wish to help adopted children, like himself, is not the one that his family would have necessarily written since Matthew passed away at age 9 last June; they are doing all they can to make his wish of helping other children in need of adoption a reality.

The McIntyre family of Cranston adopted Matthew, a former resident of Boys Town in Portsmouth, RI, in 2003.   He had been abused as a small child and through Boys Town he became a member of the McIntyre family.  After he passed away in June 2008, his family established the Matthew McIntyre Memorial Fund to assist children like him who are placed at Boys Town and hope to make the transition to a family of their own.

The Fund’s first event will be held Friday, February 27 at 6:30pm at the West Valley Inn and the money raised at the dinner will assist Boys Town to provide the opportunity for children to experience recreational, educational and other activities that fall outside of the Portsmouth facility’s budget.

For more information about the Fund or to reserve tickets for Friday’s dinner, please visit http://www.MatthewMcIntyreMemorial.com or contact Denise or Paul McIntyre at 828-0001.

E-Prescribing: What is it and Why you should Care

E-prescribing is a method by which we could improve patient care. E-prescribing helps to improve safety in prescribing many ways, as described here. One important way it helps is by eliminating the illegibility problem of many doctors’ handwriting. It also helps by providing a warning and alert system at the point of prescribing with the most updated information about a drug, thus helping to stop the filling of a prescription that may be unsafe.

Sen. Whitehouse will be chairing hearings on this subject tomorrow in Washington, D.C. From the Whitehouse press office:

Washington, D.C. U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) will chair a Senate hearing next week to explore a major barrier to improved health outcomes and cost savings in the health care system — the federal prohibition on electronic prescribing of controlled substances.

While e-prescribing could reduce adverse drug events, increase adherence to prescription regimens, and save billions of dollars each year, federal regulations still require paper prescriptions for controlled substances often used to treat attention-deficit disorder, anxiety, pain, and other ailments. This requirement means that many doctors default to writing all prescriptions by hand, rather than maintaining two systems.

Whitehouse and the Senate Judiciary Committee will hear from federal regulators and health information technology experts on the progress of rule-making in this area and the potential benefits and challenges of an e-prescribing system for controlled substances.

EVENT: Sheldon Whitehouse Chairs Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on “Electronic Prescribing of Controlled Substances: Addressing Health Care and Law Enforcement Priorities�

WHEN: Tuesday, December 4th

10 a.m.

WHERE: Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 226

Washington, D.C.

Witnesses at the Washington, D.C. event will include Laura Adams, President and CEO of the Rhode Island Quality Institute, an organization Whitehouse founded that is a leader in the state’s efforts to improve health care quality and health information technology utilization.

Whitehouse served as U.S. Attorney for the District of Rhode Island from 1994-98 and as the state’s Attorney General from 1999-2003. A longtime supporter of health information technology, he has introduced Senate legislation to establish a private, non-profit corporation tasked with developing a national, interoperable, secure health IT system (S. 1455).

While I am all in favor of better accuracy in prescription writing and filling, and believe that there is merit in public health tracking the use of prescriptions in order to see how safe and effective they are, a couple of major categories of concern come to mind right away:

1) Confidentiality — Will this make electronic information about patient pharmaceutical use more available to third parties? How would fraud be prevented?

2) Corporate Influence — Will this increase corporate influence from the pharmaceutical industry on people’s lives?

These are broad questions — probably not really answerable by anyone, but meant to provoke thought and discussion as e-prescribing moves forward.

Greg Hessoin, JD, Writes About Medicating Children

This is an interesting article. It’s one-sided, providing mainly the opinions of Dr. Peter Breggin and Kevin Hall of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, both of whom see little or no value in prescribing psychiatric medications to children. It’s important to remember that there are lots of parents out there and adults with psychiatric diagnoses who will swear by their medications as helping them to function better. And I’m not sure I share Mr. Hessoin’s opinion expressed in his final paragraph that teaching children about God is the answer. While religion and spirituality can bring comfort, focus, and satisfaction for some, it is not the prescription for everybody.

In any case, though, I sympathize with this lawyer’s plight in trying to defend a parent whose child is in state custody and who does not want their child on psychiatric medications. The youngster here is a 6-year-old boy who is reportedly on “Risperdal, Concerta, and Seroquel, plus the stimulant Clonidine and the anti-anxiety drug Klonopin.” I also sympathize with the residential facility or foster home that is trying to care for this child while giving him 5 medications a day. From Mr. Hessoin’s article:

When you are there, standing before an actual judge, real courtroom drama feels much less exciting than what you see on TV. There is no swelling music soundtrack, no scripted performances, and no overblown oratory.

Recently, I participated in a typically dull hearing that likely ruined a life — the life of a little six-year-old mildly autistic boy. The banality of the process was in contrast with the seriousness of the outcome.

Twelve adults gathered in a small, closed courtroom to decide how many powerful, anti-psychotic drugs that the child, who is currently in the custody of the state, would be required to take. The patient did not have a voice, since he was not there. No doctor was present, but plenty of lawyers were. The little boy’s lawyer saw nothing wrong with drugging him into a stupor. As the attorney for the heartbroken mother, I spoke against the whole idea; I suggested to the court that other factors may be causing the child’s problems, and that the compulsory administration of drugs by the state was simply an excuse to avoid addressing those issues.

The verdict: the little guy would be forced to take anti-psychotic drugs Risperdal, Concerta, and Seroquel, plus the stimulant Clonidine and the anti-anxiety drug Klonopin.

This outcome begs the question of whether a six-year-old child, let alone children as young as three, can be diagnosed as psychotic. And, whether children should be drugged by potions so powerful that most of them are not approved by the FDA for use in children. [full text]

The Perils of Foster Care

Hartford Courant staff writer Charles Proctor asked child welfare professionals in Connecticut about the recent study performed by Joseph Doyle on foster children, which we posted about here. This study is being considered the first empirical evidence that children taken out of the home have more problems with teen pregnancy and illegal behavior, and also are less likely to hold jobs than those who remained in the home.

From the Hartford Courant:

[…] The study’s findings suggest that rather than pouring money into foster care systems, “we need money, we need caseworkers to go to families and provide them with services,” Doyle said.

Connecticut DCF officials said the findings affirm their support for keeping children with their families whenever possible.

But critics of the agency have seized on the study to charge that DCF is not doing enough to serve parents and families. They said the agency is more likely to pluck children out of their homes and place them in foster care than to keep them at home. And even when DCF does treat the children and parents in the home, it does not do a thorough job of evaluating families’ needs and monitoring parents to make sure that their child is safe, critics said.

Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, a nonprofit advocacy group in Virginia, cited federal statistics compiled by his agency that suggest Connecticut removes children from homes at a higher rate than the national average.

According to an index that ranks states with the highest removal rates in 2005, Connecticut came in 24th, with 29.4 children removed for every 1,000 impoverished children in the state. The national average was 24.1.

“The Connecticut mentality can be boiled down to one sentence,” Wexler said. “Take the child and run.”

If children who might be better served with their families are instead placed into foster care, they can drain resources and attention from children who need the out-of-home treatment, Wexler said. The state should focus more money and staff on serving children and parents at home and reserve foster care for those who have an urgent need of it, such as children who face an imminent danger of abuse, he said.

“Connecticut has been constantly obsessed with thinking that the answer to every young person’s problem is an institution,” Wexler said.

Gary Kleeblatt, a DCF spokesman, said the agency has increased the number of families it serves with in-home care from about 2,800 in January 2002 to a little less than 3,700 in April 2007. Over that same period, the number of families DCF serves with out-of-home care remained about the same, from about 5,960 in January 2002 to 5,840 in April 2007. However, it spiked to about 6,600 in 2004. [full text]

I will look up the statistics on where Rhode Island ranks in terms of number of children removed from the home per thousand. In the collaborative spirit of blogging, if anyone wants to look this up and post a link to where the information is available, I would be much obliged.

In Connecticut, it looks like this study may help galvinize a stronger effort to avoid foster care whenever possible and search more thoroughly for other options. Sometimes, however, foster care is necessary.