LAHSA Brown Bag

On Sept 25th, the CDN hosted its latest Research Brown Bag, this time focusing squarely on the issue of family homelessness. CDN’s own Regan Foust presented findings from a linkage between LA County Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) and statewide child protection records.

The results highlighted the striking increase in the number of parents accessing homelessness services in LA since 2013 and the substantial proportion (65%) who also were known to the Child Protection System (CPS).

Given that CPS involvement most often preceded first LAHSA encounter, the results underscore the importance of providing trauma-informed services, and the value of cross-system coordination in the provision of those supports. They also highlight opportunities for prevention, as prevention-oriented family support and strengthening could have helped to resolve family problems at an earlier stage, potentially preventing later entry into homelessness. Finally, given that relatively few families had open child protection cases or children removed from the home, these results should spark a conversation about the appropriate CPS response.

For more information, please visit An Exploration into the Characteristics, Service Needs, and Child Protection Involvement of Families Accessing Services through the Los Angeles County Homeless Services Authority


On August 6, 2018, public and private sector leaders, funders and researchers met at the University of Southern California to hear findings from recent research on patterns of referral, investigation, and involvement with child protective services (CPS) and discuss their implications for the child welfare system in Los Angeles County. The meeting was convened by the Children’s Data Network at the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, sponsored by the Ralph M. Parsons Foundation with support from First 5 LA, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, and the Heising-Simons Foundation.

Research Findings

Chris Wildeman, Professor and Director of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research at Cornell University, presented findings based on analysis of data from two national child welfare data systems (i.e., the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) and the National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect (NCANDS)) indicating that 37% of American children will be investigated by CPS for alleged maltreatment at some point during childhood. This cumulative risk of CPS contact is particularly startling because the child welfare system is often thought of as being a relatively small system concerned only with children at high risk for abuse or neglect. Indeed, point-in-time data showing how many children are involved with the CPS system during a particular month or year generally include a small percentage of the population. Dr. Wildeman’s research suggests that while contact appears to be relatively rare at any moment in time, CPS contact at every level – including referrals, investigation, case openings, foster care, and termination of parental rights – is not rare at all when considered from the perspective of children and families over the course of childhood. His research also indicates substantial inequality in the cumulative rates of child welfare system contact. Specifically, his findings indicate that about 50% of African-American children will experience a CPS investigation and roughly 20% will be substantiated as victims.

Download presentation slides

Emily Putnam-Hornstein, Associate Professor at USC and Director of the Children’s Data Network, presented similar findings based on analysis of California birth and CPS records. The cumulative rate of CPS involvement for children born in LA County was somewhat lower than the national estimate, but (conservatively) more than 1 in 4 (27.8%) children were reported to CPS for alleged abuse or neglect before they turned 18. The highest rates of referral were for African-American (45.0%) and Hispanic (29.6%) children, followed by White (21.0%) and Asian (13.7%) children. Of these, about 1 in 10 referrals were substantiated (9.5%), with similar disparities observed in terms of race/ethnicity.

Download presentation slides

Panel Responses and Discussion

A distinguished panel of respondents opened discussion after the research presentations, including: Bobby Cagle, Director of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS); Judge Michael Nash, Director of the Office of Child Protection (OCP); Fesia Davenport, Assistant Chief Executive Officer; and Armando Jimenez, First 5 LA’s Director of Measurement, Learning and Evaluation. All of the panelists expressed concern about the underlying findings from the studies including the cumulative risk of system involvement for all children and the disproportionate involvement of African-American children. They also noted that preventing child maltreatment is a shared responsibility, with no one agency or department able to do the job alone.

Mr. Cagle noted a 25% increase in calls to the Child Protection Hotline in 2016-17 compared with the previous year. He described the DCFS leadership team’s commitment to working with multiple partners around prevention and early intervention. Some of the programs that are already underway include: a joint project with law enforcement and school districts to create CARES, a non-emergency call in number for reports on non-emergency matters; new approaches to working with the Department of Mental Health to better serve families involved with both departments; and the Community Prevention Linkages program where families reported to the Child Protection Hotline may be assessed for support and service needs and referred to community-based Prevention and Aftercare networks after it has been determined that there is no need for an in-person Emergency Response investigation.

Judge Nash pointed to the importance of having more meaningful and systematic ways to assess risk in order to decrease demands on the system, and noted that we also need to develop more effective ways to deal with racial and ethnic disproportionality. He also described progress that the OCP and its partners are making in implementing the major prevention strategies described in their June 2017 report, Paving the road to safety for our children: A prevention plan for Los Angeles County.

Ms. Davenport highlighted the importance of coordinating care across county departments and with community partners, including the need for better ways to share information across departments and organizations. She invited the audience to consider out-of-the-box ideas about prevention. For example, what role could the Department of Public Social Services play? How might DPSS staff go beyond determining eligibility to guiding and helping families to find other kinds of resources and support in their communities? How could other departments be more effective partners in prevention? She asserted that we need to move beyond pilot programs and demonstration projects and begin building more effective prevention strategies into the “DNA” of county departments if we want to see better outcomes for children, families, and communities.

Mr. Jimenez suggested that we need partnerships in order to come up with innovative ideas and solutions, not just to help implement new programs after solutions have already been determined. New partners can bring new ways of thinking about complicated problems including how we better define risk in different contexts and how we translate “trauma-informed care” into practice. We also need to better understand how some families find ways to thrive in spite of their challenges, and the kinds of community and family support that build resilience. In relation to that and other questions, it is especially important to engage families in coming up with ideas and solutions that would work for them and their communities.

A lively discussion following the panel presentations generated a number of key questions and ideas:

  1. How do we more effectively address the high volume of referrals? Can we intervene in a non-punitive prevention-oriented way, creating a non-CPS track where family needs are addressed without requiring intervention from the CPS system?
  2. We need to be aware of the fear generated by attention from the CPS system. Are there other approaches that would allow families to seek help without fear of punishment?
  3. We need to re-think traditional ways of responding to family problems from the perspective of family strengthening and prevention. For example, counseling does not get families out of poverty. It isn’t a surprise that our current system is giving us what we are getting. CPS is a limited response, not a true reflection of the full array of services families need in order to thrive. We need to think differently about how systems can work more effectively together. How do we break away from what we’ve always done so we can start doing things that are more effective? It is vital to engage with communities, but engagement cannot be a solution by itself. How do we invest in communities in ways that develop real solutions? We need to focus on strengths, building up and trying to replicate the factors correlated with community strengths. And we need to engage communities in honest discussions about what works.
  4. Obviously we need to respond to the ethnic/racial disparity and disproportionality reflected in these data. A lot can be attributed to economic factors, which are important, but not everything.

Taken together, the research and discussion underscored the continued importance of Los Angeles County’s efforts to coordinate services so that families are supported and children protected, and an urgent need to address the disproportionate representation of children and families of color in our child welfare system. The Office of Child Protection has made a good start, with the help of DCFS, other departments and a number of community partners, but more help is needed to build supports and resources for families in communities throughout the county.


CHHS Annual Record Reconciliation

We are proud to announce that the California Health and Human Services (CHHS) Agency, in partnership with the Children’s Data Network, has completed its first ever “record reconciliation” that links and organizes administrative, client-level records across eight major CHHS programs (i.e., CalFresh (aka Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program); CalWORKs (aka Temporary Assistance for Needy Families); Child Protection; Developmental Services; Family Planning, Access, Care, and Treatment (Family PACT); In-Home Supportive Services; Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)); and Medi-Cal.

Through the creation of an encrypted master “intra-agency” client identifier, this project facilitates the exchange of statistical information both within and between individual CHHS departments and the generation of important information about service involvement at a client and population level. In short, it is helping to break down program siloes and create a more holistic view of clients and their cross-program experiences.

“The program-centric nature of California’s health and human services data has made it challenging for us to make decisions that reflect a client’s end-to-end experiences. Despite efforts to assemble data within individual departments, this is our first unified effort to systematically connect records across our largest public service delivery programs,” said Adam Dondro, CHHS Agency Information Officer.

This new initiative follows other recent CHHS efforts to promote innovation and improve coordination by making better use of data, including the launch of its Open Data Portal. “This Record Reconciliation will allow us to achieve better outcomes for all Californians through a richer evaluation of policy options, the improved stewardship of taxpayer dollars, and a more coordinated design and delivery of public services,” said Michael Wilkening, Secretary of CHHS. “We have long known that our programs are serving many of the same clients. Now we have organized our data so that we can directly assess the implications of both budget cuts and program investments on individuals and their families.”

For more information about the project and to access program-specific results, please visit: http://www.datanetwork.org/research/chhs-annual-record-reconciliation/


Connecting the Dots, an informational resource coordinated by the Children’s Data Network (CDN) and funded by First 5 LA, is a cross-sector partnership committed to making data and research more accessible to those engaged in the development of public policy and the delivery of programs for children and families.

The goal of this year’s project was to inform Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors motion: Strengthening Home Visiting in Los Angeles County: A Plan to Improve Child, Family, and Community Well-Being by exploring how best to expand home visiting services so that there is a universal system (i.e., offered to every mother giving birth countywide) within which families at highest risk of adverse outcomes are prioritized for more intensive services.

To that end, we conducted a landscape analysis of all evidence-base home visiting programs currently operating in LA County. The resulting report, Newborn Home Visiting Programs: In Los Angeles County: A Primer, presents each program’s goals, intensity, funding streams, and catchment areas (visualized as a map). In addition, we leveraged birth and child protection data to produce slot estimates and align existing local programs with community risk profiles in LA County.

Please visit the Project page for more information: Helping Los Angeles County Chart a Course Toward Universal and Targeted Home Visiting


On May 23rd, 2018, California’s research project on predictive risk modeling (PRM) was presented at the National Human Services Training Evaluation Symposium in Berkeley, California. Dr. Emily Putnam-Hornstein from the Children’s Data Network (CDN) and Ms. Mary Lau and Ms. Jennie Feria from the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) gave the research keynote address, Predictive Risk Modeling: A Tool for Data-Driven Decision Making. These collaborators shared how PRM can bridge the gap between research and practice. A recording of the keynote address can be viewed here.

Ms. Lau is the manager of Outcome and Analytics Section and has spearheaded efforts to shape DCFS’ Data Driven Decision Making efforts both within the department and on a national platform. Ms. Feria is the Division Chief of the Child Protection Hotline Division and manages a staff of 240. Los Angeles County shared how they are creating an agency culture for data-driven decision-making and incorporating research and data into the organization’s daily practice at the Hotline Calls Division.

The presenters shared lessons learned from their respective work in data driven decision-making. Lessons learned from the PRM research project show that that openness and transparency should be the rule, not the exception. This means public agencies, not vendors, should own model code and weights, and that independent validation of model performance and independent evaluation of its implementation and impact should be features of all initial PRM efforts. Algorithmic accuracy should be assessed for children of different races/ethnicities and unwarranted disparities should be addressed. Communities should demand (and receive) information concerning how the model is being used and how the model performs. PRM should be initially implemented to augment and complement clinical judgement and other approaches to assessment, not as a substitute. Once implemented, models can and should be re-weighted and re-validated on an ongoing basis in order to maintain accuracy. Finally, PRM must be efficient and simple to administer and agency culture must be supportive.

We are proud to have presented our work alongside our county partners to underscore the value of data in improving practices that support families.


Last week, the Liberty Hill and Conrad N. Hilton Foundations, in partnership with the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, hosted a meeting focused squarely on crossover youth. The convening, with about 75 influential attendees, began with a presentation of recent data concerning dually involved youth in both Los Angeles County and nationally.

Implications for practice and policy were discussed by a group of distinguished panelists, including Bobby Cagle (Director, Department of Children and Family Services), Felicia Cotton (Deputy Chief, LA County Probation Department), Judge Michael Nash (Director, Office of Child Protection), Michelle Newell (Deputy for Youth, Justice and Education, LA County 2nd District), Barbara Duey (Children’s Law Center of California), and Taylor Lytle, a youth with lived experience in the juvenile justice and child protection systems and now an advocate for dually-involved youth.

Please click on the following links for more information:

Agenda: Intersections Between the Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice Systems — Research Findings and Implications for Los Angeles County

Slide Deck: A Brief Update on Dual Systems Youth Research, Herz & Dierkhising

Slide Deck: Los Angeles County Probation Youth with Previous Referrals to Child Protective Services, McCroskey, Herz, & Putnam-Hornstein

Crossover Youth Report: Los Angeles County Probation Youth With Previous Referrals To Child Protective Services

We would like to thank the supporters and attendees of this exciting event for the privilege of presenting research that better characterizes this vulnerable population in LA County and for enhancing our perspective about this important issue.


Given our home visiting work with First 5 LA, Los Angeles County, and local service providers, the CDN’s Regan Foust was pleased to join a national conversation with the Home Visiting Applied Research Collaborative (HARC) meeting in Chicago, IL on April 17th and 18th. The meeting, Innovative Research Methods to Advance Precision Home Visiting, brought together national methods and home visiting experts to consider how innovative methods can be used to broaden the home visiting research base. Dr. Foust had the opportunity to reinforce the potential administrative data linkage and analysis to advance research into home visiting, to efficiently learn about other cutting-edge methodologies, and to connect with others whose work is helping to shape the field.


On March 20th, 2018, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the development of a county-wide plan for dual status youth. We are excited that cross-sector data were able to effectively highlight this vulnerable population and was used to inform efforts to coordinate systems and services. Specifically, an analysis of exiting Probation youth supported by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation found that 4 out of 5 had previous contact with DCFS. In framing their remarks, Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Solis, co-authors of the motion, both led with data and statistics that emerged from this report.

We are proud to have collaborated with the California State Los Angeles School of Criminalistics and Criminal Justice, along with county agency partners in the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and Probation Department, who helped to ensure that data were available to inform this new strategy in LA County.

Select Media:

L.A. Supervisors Demand Plan to Help “Crossover Kids,” Young People Failed by Two Juvenile Systems
The Chronicle of Social Change, March 23, 2018

2 Supes Issue Call To Help “Crossover Kids,” Young People Failed—Not Once, But Twice—By LA County’s Juvenile Systems
Witness LA, March 14, 2018

Supes Approve Motion Preventing ‘Dual Status,’ ‘Crossover’ Foster Youth
SCV News, March 20, 2018


Predictive Risk Modeling Convening

The CDN hosted the second leg of a transnational meeting that gathered representatives from multiple universities and agencies to discuss, in an informal setting, all things Predictive Risk Modeling. On our days to host, November 16th – 17th, we found ourselves with more than 40 people in the room, and attendees included collaborating state and county partners. Not only was this meeting a rare opportunity to brainstorm next steps with unique mix of academics and public sector leaders, it facilitated the creation of a community around PRM and its potential applications in human services. It was a wonderful meeting of the minds; everyone left enriched by the connections and discussion.


A new study linked administrative records for youth leaving Probation supervision with data on previous referrals to Child Protective Services. The results indicate that among youth involved in the juvenile justice system, the prevalence of past child protection involvement may be even higher than previously realized. Four out of five LA Probation youth had received at least one referral for suspected maltreatment, with many experiencing their first referral early in childhood. Prevalence of referred and substantiated maltreatment, case opening, and foster care placement was significantly higher among Female (vs. male) youth exiting Probation and Black (vs. Latino and white) youth exiting Probation.

These data illuminate the importance of coordinating cross-system responses bot for “dual status” youth who are simultaneously involved with both child protection and delinquency systems and for “crossover” youth who sequentially come to the attention of both systems.  They also suggest that it is critical that we carefully examine the resources available and connections made for families referred to child protection. Previous research has shown that a first referral of maltreatment is often a seminal event in the life of a child – frequently followed by additional referrals and other adversities.1 Adoption of a countywide approach to prevention provides a significant opportunity to align public and private resources, enhance existing prevention and early intervention efforts, and support more families so they don’t require the attention of our child protection and delinquency systems.

See the Crossover Youth project page for more information and to download the full report.

1 Dakil, S. R., Sakai, C., Lin, H., & Flores, G. (2011). Recidivism in the child protection system: Identifying children at greatest risk of reabuse among those remaining in the home. Archives of pediatrics & adolescent medicine, 165(11), 1006-1012.

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