News Release

Predictive Analytics Algorithm for Child Welfare


Richard Wexler is available for interviews.

RICHARD WEXLER;, (703) 212-2006
    Wexler is the executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform (NCCPR). 

At the NCCPR, Wexler works to change America’s approach to child abuse, child welfare, and foster care. In recent weeks, NCCPR has brought attention to some of the baked-in problems with the predictive analytics algorithms that are used by child welfare services, or what Wexler calls “family police agenc[ies].” The algorithms create a score, between 1 and 20, for the entire household. This score guides screeners in deciding, as NCCPR put it, “which children will have to endure the trauma of an investigation.” The score stays with both parent and child; using the model, “every former foster youth in America will be considered higher-risk as a parent simply because s/he was placed in foster care.”

Wexler argues that some algorithms disproportionately target poor families of color as well as parents with disabilities, “exacerbating the biases that already exist in the system.” Others, including Hello Baby and CJRM, expand the “onerous surveillance of poor families, especially poor families of color,” by putting even those that have no allegations of child abuse or neglect against them “under a microscope… Every former foster youth in America will be considered higher-risk as a parent.”

Wexler told the Institute for Public Accuracy that designers of these algorithms claim they are only intended to target prevention. In theory, the algorithm “might be used by a health department to choose neighborhoods to send in home visitors [a voluntary program for new parents]. But the home visitors themselves are ‘mandatory reporters’ of child abuse, and they will be sent to these neighborhoods knowing that a ‘scientific’ algorithm has rated the families there at high risk for abusing their children. That alone can bias their assessment of a family and what they see while they’re visiting.”

And Wexler added: “Criteria must be established to screen out most neglect calls––because those calls usually are really calls about poverty… Any allegation must allege actual harm to a child or conditions so dangerous that the child is likely to be seriously harmed.” Wexler argues that “in addition to the enormous harm inflicted on children by needless investigations and foster care,” overreporting creates a “deluge of false allegations [that] overwhelms the system,” making it “harder to find those few children in real danger.”