How a NC county uses predictive analytics to save lives of at-risk kids

This information provided by Smart Cities Council Compassionate Cities.

In a single county in North Carolina, social service workers process 300 reports of child abuse or neglect every month. Working with Council Lead Partner SAS, New Hanover County is using predictive analytics to help caseworkers focus on children who need help the most. It's not a problem unique to New Hanover County, of course. A successful outcome there could serve as a model for the rest of the state -- and beyond.


The 300 reports of child abuse and neglect that New Hanover County Department of Social Services (DSS) receives every month represent a sharp increase from the past.

Given that, Wanda Marino, Assistant Director of the New Hanover County DSS, says they have to focus on children who need help the most.

With a grant from The Duke Endowment, the county will use SAS® Analytics to help protect at-risk kids and keep them alive.

"Analytics will help us examine current caseloads and assess real risk," Marino says. "By prioritizing our activities, we’ll keep more children safe.”

By integrating data from a variety of sources, such as criminal justice and public health databases, the system will alert DSS workers to changes in a child's life that could indicate increased risk – for example 911 calls from the child's home, arrest of family members, school absences, etc.

"With so many children in their charge, caseworkers can’t know every change in a child’s life as it happens. Some changes create a more dangerous environment,” said Will Jones, human services and child well-being expert at SAS. “The system can uncover patterns of data that are highly suggestive of a hazardous or abusive situation, allowing caseworkers to bring help to the helpless.”

Helping kids and saving money
The county has set some bold goals for its analytics initiative. Among them:

  • Reducing child fatalities
  • Reducing the number of children in paid placement (foster or group homes, residential treatment centers)
  • Increasing the number of children in permanent homes

And while the safety of kids in its care is the No. 1 priority, reducing paid placements and increasing permanency will save DSS an estimated $1,060,000 annually. It's also expected to reduce turnover in the agency by easing the load on overburdened caseworkers, thus increasing their job satisfaction.

“Analytics can help protect society’s most vulnerable members,” said Paula Henderson, Vice President of the SAS State and Local Government Practice. “The groundbreaking work with New Hanover County will help us create a repeatable child well-being system that even budget-strapped counties can implement.”

SAS offers a variety of analytics solutions to improve child well-being. Click to learn more about how data protects at-risk children.

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How predictive analytics is saving children's lives in Los Angeles

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This article is from the Council's Compassionate Cities initiative which highlights how city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty. Click the Compassionate Cities box on our registration page to receive our weekly newsletter.

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