Officials in Los Angeles County used a screening assessment developed by the National Council on Crime & Delinquency to identify such young people and direct them into prevention services.
NCCD released what researchers say are encouraging, though preliminary, results from the pilot. Of three cohorts, those who received consistent intervention after the screening were the least likely to be arrested during a six-month period.
The researchers cautioned against reading too much into the early numbers. They cannot show whether the interventions provided to the group were responsible for their outcomes, they said.
However, the findings point to the need for further research about how careful data analysis might be able to keep youth out of the juvenile justice system — and offer lessons to officials eager to try the approach, they said.
“This is a really good example of how the excitement about predictive analytics can be put to use,” said Jesse Russell, chief program officer at NCCD.
Child welfare officials know youth in their system are more likely to experience negative outcomes, such as lower levels of education and greater contact with the juvenile system, compared with their peers.
Plenty of people want to improve those outcomes, but the pilot from NCCD is the first to see if a screening assessment might be a way to disrupt the slippery slope from child welfare to delinquency, Russell said.
There are several questions about the relationship between child welfare and delinquency, including who is at risk and how to promote better outcomes for them, he said. The data can help answer the first question, but aren’t a silver bullet for how to help.
“We need to make sure we’re not ignoring the ‘how,’ and we can’t hope those analytics alone answer the question,” he said. Identifying youth who are at risk shouldn’t be an excuse to label them and move along, but an opportunity to find the preventive measures that will lead to their success, he added.
For the pilot, workers used the screening assessment to gather information about a youth’s demographics, background with child protective services, history, education and mental health.
The results were then analyzed, and an automated program alerted a child services worker that a child was more likely than average to become involved in the juvenile justice system. They then were provided with targeted services.
Youth in the cohort who did not receive targeted services had the highest rates of arrest, at 9 percent. Youth in a cohort that was tracked during a time when the pilot had implementation issues had the second highest rates, at 7 percent. None of the youth in a third cohort, who were enrolled after a pilot reboot, were arrested.
NCCD said data limitations based on implementation consistency and data collection issues make it hard to draw firm conclusions about the findings.
“While promising, these results should be interpreted carefully given the gaps in information about implementation fidelity at baseline and during the follow-up period. Based on other information collected, it is not clear which youth in any of the cohorts received services as intended and when; therefore, inferences from these data should be made with caution,” the report said.
“CJJR has worked to support Los Angeles County in the implementation and improvement of multi-system reform efforts,“ said Shay Bilchik, founder and director of CJJR, in a news release. “The screening assessment further supports our efforts to enable information sharing across agencies and reduce the number of youth in Los Angeles who are involved in both the juvenile justice and child welfare systems.”
The researchers, officials and funders will discuss the findings further during a webinar on Jan. 22.
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