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February 2024Vol. 25, No. 1Spotlight on Child Welfare Data and Technology

This issue of CBX spotlights child welfare data and technology and how innovations in these areas can support the workforce and improve outcomes for children, families, and communities. Read a message from Associate Commissioner Aysha E. Schomburg about kuleana, a Hawaiian word for ‘responsibility, claim, or privilege,’ and how we all share kuleana for supporting the children and families in our communities. This issue also includes the latest resources and tools for child welfare professionals and the families they serve.

Issue Spotlight

  • Aloha Spirit, A Message From Aysha E. Schomburg

    Aloha Spirit, A Message From Aysha E. Schomburg

    Written by Associate Commissioner Aysha E. Schomburg

    Last month I had a wonderful opportunity to visit with our colleagues in Hawaii who are dedicated to supporting children and families. I was fortunate to learn about Native Hawaiian history and, particularly, cultural views about children, family, and community. Not unlike many other Black and Brown cultural groups in our society, Native Hawaiians have experienced significant historical trauma.  After contact with Europeans, Native Hawaiians suffered the loss of their language, the loss of their spiritual practices, the loss of their land, and the loss of lives.     

    “Kuleana” is the Hawaiian word for responsibility, claim, or privilege. We talked at length about our collective kuleana for “ohana” (family), the “kauhale” (village), and even the “aina” (land). We discussed the Hawaiian value of “pilina,” which is the term for honoring relationships. One example of kuleana for the kauahale system (community living) is the idea of fishing with a net as opposed to fishing with a pole. Fishing with a pole is for one person, fishing with a net is for everyone. It is such a simple example but a poignant one. If we fish for everyone, we demonstrate pilina with our “keiki” (children), our ohana, and our kauhale. We live our lives with kuleana when we commit to casting our net wide.

    The Hawaiian values of responsibility, honoring relationships, and community living are closely aligned with the Aloha Spirit law, which is an actual law in the state of Hawaii. According to the law, “Aloha” is more than just a greeting. It is meant to embody “the essence of relationships in which each person is important to every other person for collective existence.” The Aloha Spirit is foundational to the way that we endeavor to treat each other, and, in my mind, it is essential to individual, family, and community well-being. During our conversation, one parent described a situation where her teenaged son pleaded with her to be able to take his young sister to school. He felt it was his kuleana, his claim, to be given the responsibility of caring for his sister in that way. In telling us the story, she described the pride that he felt in being able to care for his sister and her pride in him for embracing this important Native Hawaiian value.

    We all have kuleana for the children and families in the communities to which we belong. The ways in which we support families and the lengths to which we will go to ensure that families have what they need begins with the way we honor relationships. In order to realize the sweet dream of an equitable family support society, we must fish for everyone. We can learn from Aloha Spirit, that we are capable of a collective existence where each person is important to every other. The Aloha Spirit also reminds us that, regardless of the circumstances, we must persevere. A story may begin with historical trauma, but it doesn’t have to end there. Keep going!

  • Human-AI Partnerships in Child Welfare: Algorithmic Decision Support

    Human-AI Partnerships in Child Welfare: Algorithmic Decision Support

    A paper from the 2022 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems examines decision support tools (ADS) based on artificial intelligence (AI) within the context of child welfare. Interviews were conducted with child maltreatment hotline workers to understand their current practices and challenges in working with an ADS—in particular, the Allegheny Family Screening Tool (AFST). The authors state that while ADS have the potential to promote more equitable decision outcomes, AI-based judgments come with their own biases and limitations. As such, an effective human-AI partnership has the potential to compensate for and build upon each other's limitations and strengths. However, the authors write that little is known about what specific factors support or hinder an effective partnership in real-world practice.

    In "Improving Human-AI Partnerships in Child Welfare: Understanding Worker Practices, Challenges, and Desires for Algorithmic Decision Support," researchers explored the following questions:

    • How do workers decide when, whether, and how much to rely on algorithmic recommendations?
    • What limitations and future design opportunities do workers perceive for the AFST or future ADS tools?

    According to the interviews, the researchers found that workers augmented some of the limitations of the AFST with their own contextual, qualitative knowledge about cases they were working on. These data were not included in the administrative data that the AFST model uses.

    Researchers also found that most workers knew very little about how the AFST worked, what data it used, or how they could more effectively work with the tool. Workers were intentionally given limited information on how the model worked in order to prevent "gaming the system." However, workers developed their own beliefs about how the model worked and adjusted their reliance on the tool accordingly. The lack of transparency also limited the workers' trust in the model and contributed to them feeling unable to work with it effectively.

    Access the full article as well as the presentation video for more information on how workers used and viewed the AFST and design implications for creating a more supportive and effective human-AI decision-making partnership for child welfare professionals.

  • Case Study Highlights Maryland Department of Health & Human Services' Data-Sharing Initiative

    Case Study Highlights Maryland Department of Health & Human Services' Data-Sharing Initiative

    The Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) published a case study examining its efforts to create an enterprise-integrated case management system (eICM) to improve data-sharing efficiency and overall outcomes. This effort is part of a larger project from the Administration for Children and Families' Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE). OPRE is sponsoring a project to create tools that agencies can use to help develop data-sharing initiatives while protecting the privacy and confidentiality of the families they serve.

    Case Study Report: Montgomery County, MD’s Electronic Integrated Case Management System (eICM) Data Sharing for Program Operations While Protecting Privacy shares DHHS's experience developing and implementing the eICM. The report highlights data-sharing practices, privacy and confidentiality challenges and solutions, and advice. DHHS's goals and priorities for data sharing included the following:

    • Collaborating with community partners
    • Addressing drivers of intergenerational poverty
    • Ensuring equity in services and outcomes
    • Using data for decision-making and advanced analytics
    • Reducing duplicate work and administrative burden

    DHHS encountered several challenges designing the eICM's framework and working with staff as they transitioned to day-to-day use of the new system and the accompanying cultural shift. For example, there was pushback from both staff and supervisors who felt a deep kinship or protectiveness over the families they served. Helping them shift their mindset from "my" client to "our" client was essential.

    Read the case study in full for details on privacy practices and risk mitigation strategies DHHS implemented as well as more lessons learned and recommendations.

  • Using Data to Understand Adverse Childhood Experiences Among Minnesota Youth

    Using Data to Understand Adverse Childhood Experiences Among Minnesota Youth

    Using local-level data on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can help communities understand their unique strengths and challenges, inform ACEs prevention efforts and evaluation, build community resilience, and improve overall community well-being. This was the focus of a study conducted by the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare (CASCW) at the University of Minnesota as part of the Minn-LInK project.

    The study’s issue brief describes the integrated surveillance system the Minnesota Department of Health is working to build that provides timely local-level data on ACEs and related risk and protective factors. An interactive data dashboard will include data from a variety of sources—child welfare and education data from the Minnesota Departments of Human Services and Education, the Minnesota Student Survey, publicly available data from the U.S. Census, and more.

    Communities will be able to answer the following questions with this data:

    • What kinds of protective factors do students in our community have?
    • What risk factors are most prevalent for students in our community?
    • What is the prevalence of ACEs experienced by students in our community?
    • Do racial/ethnic disparities exist in ACES experiences for Minnesota students?

    The report also presents a selection of specific data related to protective and risk factors and ACEs among Minnesota youth.

    To learn more, read Integrating Data to Understand Adverse Childhood Experienced Among Minnesota Youth. A supplemental discussion guide is also available.

    Related item: Read an article about another Minn-LInK study in the November 2023 issue of CBX.

  • New Quality Improvement Center for Workforce Analytics Seeks Project Sites

    New Quality Improvement Center for Workforce Analytics Seeks Project Sites

    The Quality Improvement Center for Workforce Analytics (QIC-WA) was recently established to address persistent child welfare workforce challenges with data-driven solutions. Center staff believe that agencies that effectively use their workforce data to improve their operations are best suited to support children and families. The QIC-WA strives to meet organizations where they are and empower them to use their data to determine workforce strategies around topics such as diversity, equity, and inclusion; belonging; recruitment; performance; retention; and well-being. Learn more about the project in this QIC-WA overview document.

    The QIC-WA is seeking six sites, including state, county, territorial, and tribal child welfare agencies, interested in workforce analytics and testing evidence-informed workforce strategies. Selected sites will implement a strategy to strengthen their child welfare workforce, use workforce analytics to support decision-making, participate in an evaluation, and engage in tailored capacity building and a peer-learning network. Review the call for sites, FAQs, and recorded webinars on the QIC-WA website to learn more about this opportunity.

    Applications are due February 15, 2024, at 11:59 p.m. PT and site selection will be complete by April. Agency leaders can email additional questions to contact.qic.wa@gmail.com. NOTE: Tribal agencies are welcome to apply but will have an adapted application process and timelines, to be posted as a separate tribal agency announcement on the QIC-WA website in early February.

News From the Children's Bureau

In this section, find the latest news, resources, and publications from the Administration for Children and Families, the Children's Bureau, and other offices within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as well as a listing of the latest additions to the Children's Bureau website.

Training & Technical Assistance Updates

This section features resources and updates from the Children's Bureau's technical assistance partners to support practices and systems that improve the lives of children and families.

Child Welfare Research

In this section, we highlight recent studies, literature reviews, and other research on child welfare topics.

  • Analysis of Factors Associated With Child Welfare Workforce Turnover

    Analysis of Factors Associated With Child Welfare Workforce Turnover

    Child welfare agencies and caseworkers experience high rates of attrition and job turnover. While it is generally established that stress and burnout greatly contribute to turnover, other factors such as demographic and personality characteristics, experiences, and attitudes, are less understood. The Quality Improvement Center for Workforce Development published an article on the findings from a survey of how different factors are associated with three measures of turnover intent:

    • Thinking about quitting
    • Intending to search
    • Intent to leave

    The research in "Developing an Ecological Model of Turnover Intent: Associations Among Child Welfare Caseworkers' Characteristics, Lived Experience, Professional Attitudes, Agency Culture, and Proclivity to Leave" makes use of an ecological model of turnover intent, based on the decision-making ecology. Using this framework, the researchers took a deeper look at the relationships between decision-maker (i.e., caseworker) characteristics and their perception of organizational culture and the three measures of turnover intent. Two measures had strong associations with all three turnover intent measures: burnout and confidence in decision support from agency leadership. Associations with other measures varied in their significance, orientation, and strength. The researchers hope that the nonsignificant findings may be helpful in future research endeavors.

    The authors find these results encouraging, as burnout and agency and supervisor support can be addressed, unlike demographic factors. Additionally, findings suggest that the three outcomes may function as a type of continuum on how likely someone is to depart. Further research exploring relationships between these outcomes, actual turnover, and time to turnover may give better insight as to which measure best predicts actual departures.

  • Survey Measures the Role of Economic and Concrete Supports in Child Maltreatment Prevention

    Survey Measures the Role of Economic and Concrete Supports in Child Maltreatment Prevention

    One way to prevent child maltreatment and child welfare involvement is to provide families with economic and concrete supports. To understand the use of these supports to prevent system involvement, Chapin Hall partnered with the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA) to launch a survey of state child welfare leaders in 2022. The survey is an expansion of APHSA’s Advancing Family Economic Mobility Initiative.

    The survey was sent to executive leaders in 52 states, districts, and territories and had an 83 percent response rate. It included five questions:

    1. What do you believe about economic need and child welfare system involvement?
    2. What approach do you use to offer economic and concrete supports to families?
    3. How do you coordinate with other human service systems to offer economic and concrete supports to families?
    4. What are the barriers to offering these supports and what solutions might address those barriers?
    5. How was federal COVID-19 assistance used to fund economic and concrete supports?

    The following are some of the survey’s key findings:

    • Respondents believe screening, referring, and helping families receive economic support is the responsibility of both the child welfare agency and public benefit system. However, they prefer the public benefit system to lead the work.
    • Economic and concrete support needs are assessed during child protective services investigations.
    • State funds are the most common funding source of economic and concrete supports, but funds come from a variety of funding streams.
    • Most respondents said an agency other than the child welfare agency administers public benefit programs.
    • Agencies face many barriers to offering economic and concrete supports to families.
    • Agencies used COVID-19 emergency federal assistance to provide cash, utilities, food, housing, child care, employment, and home repairs to families.

    A research report on the survey provides more detail about the survey responses and themes, as well as recommendations for policy and practice changes. A summary of the report is available on the Chapin Hall website.

  • The Impact of Information Communication Technology on Worker-Client Relationships

    The Impact of Information Communication Technology on Worker-Client Relationships

    Relationship building is a major element of social work, and communication is a major piece of relationship building. Recognizing this importance, researchers examined the impact of information communication technology on social worker-client relationships. The study, Information Communication Technology and the Social Worker-Client Relationship: Lessons from Communication Theory, reviews the benefits and challenges of communicating with clients via technology. The study also includes a list of “selection factors” to help social workers evaluate and select communication tools.

    There were four challenges associated with communicating using technology:

    • Worker-client boundaries. It may be more difficult for workers to establish and maintain professional boundaries (e.g., related to availability and timing) when communicating electronically.
    • Technology competence and digital literacy. Social workers need to be digitally literate in electronic tools (such as video conferencing) to effectively form relationships and communicate with clients.
    •  Surveillance. Social workers’ ability to use social media to gather information about clients (and vice versa) can cause tension.
    • Message misunderstanding. A lack of verbal or visual cues can lead to misunderstandings.

    In addition to the challenges, the study also highlighted several benefits:

    • Methods of communication. Electronic communication creates multiple ways to communicate beyond in-person interactions.
    • Ease and efficiency. Emailing, texting, or calling is easier and more time-efficient than arranging in-person meetings.
    • Social presence. Electronic communication can mean increased availability of both worker and client, increased frequency of communication, and increased flow of interactions.
    • Fixed format. Electronic communication typically creates a fixed record of communication that can be easily accessed and reviewed after the exchange.  
    • Responsiveness to client preference. Clients (especially younger ones) may prefer to communicate electronically, which can increase communication and participation in meetings and case reviews.

    The following are key factors social workers should consider when selecting communication tools:

    • Communication medium bandwidth
    • Mutual directionality
    • Confidentiality and privacy
    • Formality of the exchange
    • Complexity of the message content

    The study concludes that further research is needed to determine how information communication technology affects the worker-client relationship.

Strategies and Tools for Practice

This section of CBX offers publications, articles, reports, toolkits, and other resources that provide evidence-based strategies or other concrete help to child welfare and related professionals.

  • Report Highlights the Mental Health Needs and Challenges of Grandfamilies

    Report Highlights the Mental Health Needs and Challenges of Grandfamilies

    More than 2.4 million children and youth in the United States live with grandfamilies—grandparents, relatives, or close family friends. A recent report from Generations United, Building Resilience: Supporting Grandfamilies’ Mental Health and Wellness, examines the mental health needs and challenges of these kin caregivers and the children in their care.

    Grandfamilies often experience mental health challenges across generations. Children may experience mental health conditions stemming from trauma, abuse, or neglect. Caregivers’ mental health is affected by raising children who have experienced trauma, as well as issues related to child-rearing responsibilities, such as financial stress, food insecurity, or social isolation. Parents whose children are raised by grandfamilies also often experience mental health, behavioral, and substance use disorders.

    Despite the prevalence of these issues, grandfamilies often face challenges accessing mental health services. This may be due to a lack of availability or legal authority, among other reasons. The report provides an overview of these challenges, including how mental health struggles have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, racial injustice, and the opioid epidemic.

    The report features a series of recommendations for policymakers, including the following:

    • Increase access to affordable, quality, trauma-informed mental health treatment for youth and caregivers in grandfamilies.
    • Help grandfamilies meet their basic needs so they can prioritize mental health and wellness.  
    • Train health care, mental health, and educational providers on issues related to grandfamilies.
    • Increase access to quality and culturally appropriate services in schools.
    • Implement mental health outreach and communication strategies that are tailored to grandfamilies.
    • Encourage kinship navigator programs to coordinate services with mental health providers.
    • Collect national data on mental health indicators, including adverse childhood experiences, for children in grandfamilies.
    • Research the impact of chronic stress and community violence on grandfamilies’ mental health.
    • Encourage states to use opioid settlement funds to support grandfamilies mental health and wellness.

    More information is available in the full report. A report overview, infographic, key facts and findings, press release, and more are also available on the Generations United website.

  • Approach Supports Families in Child Welfare Affected by Domestic Violence

    Approach Supports Families in Child Welfare Affected by Domestic Violence

    There is often an overlap between child welfare and other human service systems. Bridges to Better is an approach that prioritizes cross-system and cross-agency collaboration to improve outcomes for children, youth, and families who are affected by domestic violence and either involved with or at risk of becoming involved with the child welfare system.

    Bridges to Better works toward systems change across various sectors by building community networks to improve outcomes for children, youth, and families. The approach has six guiding principles:

    1. Collaborate
    2. Recognize the interconnected safety and well-being of adult and child survivors
    3. Partner with survivors
    4. Respond to unique challenges and build on unique strengths
    5. Advance racial and gender equity
    6. Promote healing and well-being

    The Bridges to Better website features information, resources, and training on supporting families who are affected by domestic violence and either involved with or at risk of becoming involved with the child welfare system. One of its main offerings is the “groundwork,” or curated collections of resources, to help service providers, leaders, policymakers, policy advocates, and researchers build survivor-centered systems.

    The approach was a result of work by the Quality Improvement Center on Domestic Violence in Child Welfare (QIC-DVCW). It was developed by Futures Without Violence in partnership with the Center for Health and Safety Culture, the Center for the Study of Social Policy, the University of Kansas School of Social Welfare, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, and Latinos United for Peace and Equity.

Resources

In this section, we present interesting resources, such as websites, videos, journals, funding or scholarship opportunities, or other materials, that can be used in the field or with families.

  • We R Native Website for Youth

    We R Native Website for Youth

    Since 2012, We R Native has served as a culturally appropriate and comprehensive health resource for American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) youth. The website provides over 330 pages of health and wellness information reviewed and approved by subject matter experts and AI/AN teens and young adults. It includes colorful images and graphics, videos, sections dedicated to AI/AN youth life and culture, free 24/7 crisis support, and more. The following features are spotlighted on the homepage:

    • Ask Your Relative – AI/AN youth can submit ‘mind, body or spirit’ questions and “relatives” (a team of educators, public health professionals, and caring adults who understand AI/AN identity, culture, and community) will reply. Visitors to the website can also view and search through all preceding questions and answers.
    • Youth Support Resources – A QR code provides youth an interactive way to access resources spanning a range of topics, including drugs and alcohol, education, life skills, mental health, relationships and dating, sexual identity, and more.

    We R Native also links to the sister site for adults—Healthy Native Youth, a resource designed for tribal health educators, teachers, parents, and caring adults that provides information, training, and tools needed to support AI/AN youth.

    Related item: Tribal child welfare was the spotlight theme of the December/January 2024 issue of CBX.

  • Video for Parents Presents True Story of Resilience

    Video for Parents Presents True Story of Resilience

    "Unstoppable," a short, illustrated video from the FRIENDS National Center for Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention (CBCAP), presents a true story about parental resilience and empowerment. The video and associated audio version are part of Sharing the Journey: Voices From the Field, a collection of audio, video, and animated stories that highlight parent and practitioner perspectives on child abuse and neglect prevention. The stories are separated into three categories: Voices of Parent Leaders, Parent Stories on Preventing Child Neglect, and Voices of Parents and Practitioners.

    The vignettes cover a variety of topics, such as the protective factors, fatherhood, kinship families, and more. They may be used as tools to increase public awareness; train child welfare staff; and engage parents, service providers, lawmakers, and communities in a dialogue on child abuse and neglect prevention. Below is a sampling of stories:

    FRIENDS National Center for CBCAP supports community-based programs and activities that foster understanding and strengthen families to help reduce child abuse and neglect. Visit the FRIENDS National Center website to learn more.

Training and Conferences

Find trainings, workshops, webinars, and other opportunities for professionals and families to learn about how to improve the lives of children and youth as well as a listing of upcoming events and conferences.

  • Webinar Discusses How to Modernize Child Welfare Systems

    Webinar Discusses How to Modernize Child Welfare Systems

    Modernizing technology to support child welfare practice efficiency is the focus of a recent webinar hosted by Government Technology and available on the Governing website. Currently, outdated case management systems and inefficient data management are cited as major tech-related hurdles that agencies face. This hour-long recorded webinar, hosted and moderated by a senior fellow from the Center for Digital Government, discusses how child welfare agencies can support the workforce—and the children and families it serves—through technology and innovation. Specifically, it addresses:

    • Overcoming funding and workforce constraints
    • Choosing the right technology for the future
    • Meeting audit and compliance requirements

    Following a brief introduction, a panel discussion in which speakers, experts with extensive child welfare and digital solutions experience, expound upon questions such as:

    • What are some challenges state and local child welfare leaders across the country report having about their programs and case management systems?
    • What case management capabilities do child welfare programs deem most important in their current systems? What capabilities are missing from their current systems?
    • What approaches can help organizations achieve desired efficiencies and address resource constraints such as those related to budget, workforce, competing priorities, and more?

    The session also incorporates audience engagement with dedicated time for questions and answers and a poll about the modernization features organizations might prioritize.

    View the webinar “How to Modernize Child Welfare Systems” to learn more.

    Government Technology and Governing are e.Republic platforms dedicated to the smart use of technology in state and local government.

  • Conferences

    Conferences

    Upcoming conferences and events on child welfare and adoption include the following:

    February

    March

    • "Contracting With Data System Vendors," Part 3 of the Tribal Child Welfare Data System Procurement Webinar Series
      The Children's Bureau Division of State Systems and the Capacity Building Center for Tribes
      Virtual, March 20

    April

    May