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How Doctors Are Using Data To Predict Child Abuse


Doctors at Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth are experimenting with data technology that could help predict neighborhoods where kids are most likely to be abused.

On Think, guest host Lauren Silverman talked about the forecasting software with Dr. Dyann Daley, a pediatric anesthesiologist at Cook Children's and head of the Center for Prevention of Child Maltreatment. She was also joined by clinical psychologist David Sanders, who chaired the Presidential Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities.

The KERA Interview

Dyann Daley on:

… how the predictive technology works:  

“A lot of predictive analytics that you hear about in the news will look at things like person characteristics or profiling or that sort of thing. Risk terrain modeling looks at the environment. What we have done with risk terrain modeling is we look to see what’s surrounding children that are maltreated. What sort of buildings, businesses? What types of crimes? How can we take the risk factors that we know about from the CDC and from the adverse childhood experience study and other work, and look at them geographically on a map so that we can see where the risk is higher.”

… risk factors that can lead to child maltreatment:

“What we found was that if you have in a football field-sized area poverty, domestic violence, aggravated assault, presence of a runaway and murder that the children that live inside of that same football field-sized area are about 150 times more likely to experience maltreatment.”

the accuracy of risk terrain modeling:

“In our newer models, which are more precise, we found that we can predict where more than 80 percent of child maltreatment cases will occur in the future in an area of about 20 percent the size of the city of Fort Worth. We’ve also created a model for Austin, where we were able to identify where more than 50 percent of child maltreatment cases would occur in less than 7 percent of the city’s area.”

David Sanders on:

… why this technology is important:

“Most states and most systems wait until children have been abused or neglected to intervene. The resources to actually prevent abuse or neglect to make sure that children aren’t harmed in the first place aren’t available in general. What Dr. Daley’s study does is give a sense of where in a community do resources need to be deployed in order to make sure that children aren’t abused or neglected in the first place. I was surprise at the accuracy of it, but the importance of it can’t be overstated.”