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LA Examines the Risky Business of “Predictive Risk Modeling”

Daniel Heimpel
Written by Daniel Heimpel

A Child’s Death in L.A. Elicits More Questions than Answers

Los Angeles County, home to the nation’s largest child welfare system, is grappling with how to measure and respond to the risk that a child will be abused.

At the heart of this confounding, complicated issue are two hard-to-answer questions.

The first is whether it’s time to move forward with “predictive risk modeling,” which uses huge data sets and advanced algorithms to discern the likelihood a child will be abused.

The second, and more important, question: how to respond when risk assessments suggest that a child will be maltreated in the future, but is not in imminent harm today?

Recently, Los Angeles County’s Office of Child Protection (OCP) issued a long-awaited report on these issues. Spurred by the death of an 11-year-old Echo Park boy named Yonatan Aguilar last summer, the office was charged with weighing the county’s current risk-assessment tools against the emerging practice of “predictive analytics.”

Beyond navigating the ethical and practical minefield of what tools should be used to determine risk, the OCP, in its most academic report to date, dove into the fraught question of what to do when a family is deemed at high risk, but there is no legal basis to intervene….

The rest of this story is over at the Chronicle of Social Change.


The Chronicle, along with founder and publisher, Daniel Heimpel, have been on top of the story of the use of so-called big data and predictive analytics in child protective services for a long time. (For example check out this 2015 story.)

If you’d like to get a comprehensive picture of this complex issue, they’re one of the best places to go.

Also, check out another important view of this complicated issue with Richard Wexler’s Op-Ed After Disturbingly High False Positive Rate, Head of LA County’s Office of Child Protection Urges Caution With Predictive Analytics

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