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Emily Putnam-Hornstein spoke on “Predictive Risk Modeling: A Controversial (but necessary) Tool for Child Protection,” methods used to develop risk models that could save the lives of children. She began her talk by outlining four insights she’s developed from nearly two decades of research in the child protection system: 1) the current system has been stretched to an untenable point; 2) some children need protection; 3) racial disparities are large and have not meaningfully changed; 4) our current risk assessment tools are 20 or more years out of date, biased, and inaccurate. Child protection systems are typically asked to be either reactive or preventative to the situations at hand, and are resigned to the use of limited, operator-driven tools. Research shows that when children die at the hands of parents, the reasons can often be attributed to broad, systemic failures during the child protective system’s investigation period, such as failure to gather important information, improper use of tools, failure to coordinate services, and inadequate supervision of a young workforce. Using data and machine learning tools, Putnam-Hornstein and her team are working on developing and deploying risk models to improve upon these existing tools and differentiate risk at the front-end. She has partnered with numerous agencies that are able to run the predictive risk models in real-time within three levels of their organization: provided to initial hotline screeners, aligned with the supervisors and caseworkers working on the case, and as part of the follow-up at the end of an incident. The risk models and algorithms have been built in collaboration with agencies and the data they have on hand, upholding community engagement and transparency at every step. Putnam-Hornstein finished her talk by discussing her surprise at the negativity towards algorithms, as they have been helpful with this project and could be utilized in further research, such as identifying sources of unwarranted racial variation in the responses of child protection system workers. 


Emily Putnam-Hornstein, John A. Tate Distinguished Professor for Children in Need and the Director of Policy Practice

Department: School of Social Work | Faculty Profile

Featured on: March 24, 2022 (Event Page)

Session Title: Transforming Youth Advocacy (Event Recap

Tools, Information, and Resources:

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