Yesterday The Chronicle of Social Change profiled a new precautionary child welfare tool being used in Florida called Rapid Safety Feedback (RSF). You can read all about it here, but Youth Services Insider wanted to hit home why we believe it’s a huge deal for the business of child welfare.
RSF proposes that if you identify the factors most predictive of a children dying of abuse or neglect, you can prevent future tragedies by tightening the quality assurance procedures on cases where those factors are present.
In Hillsborough County, Fla., where Eckerd developed RSF, the group at risk for fatalities were children under three who remained with their parent or parents. The county had seen a horrific eight deaths in two years of children known to the system; all of them were under three and in their homes.
Since RSF was implemented in 2013, the county is pitching a shutout on deaths attributed to abuse or neglect. The state Department of Children and Families has picked up Rapid Safety Feedback statewide, and now Los Angeles is interested in implementing it.
Beyond that, RSF is a pretty unknown commodity as far as we can tell. One member of President Obama’s child fatality commission told us she didn’t know much about it yet, but that the theory of RSF absolutely makes sense.
Why is this so important? Because if RSF can prove itself to be effective over a long period of time, it could isolate and neutralize the systemic fear of child fatalities.
You’ve heard of exceptions eating rules? The death of a child known to the child welfare system is very often a statistical exception that writes the rules. Trace the origins of most “blue ribbon commissions” on child welfare reform, and you will find that the overhaul of an entire system was predicated on a small number of dead children known to a system that serves hundreds or thousands of children and families each year.
Are those cases alarming and horrific, and sometimes signal weaknesses in the system? Absolutely. But that hardly makes them the proper impetus for tectonic philosophical shifts in systems. If RSF emerges as a validated way to prevent child fatalities, it takes those deaths off the table as a driver of policy.
Let’s say a county or state wanted to push to drastically increase the proportion of families they served without a removal to foster care.
The first child who died in the home of their birth parents might throw that agenda into jeopardy. Caseworkers are fired; other caseworkers panic and start removing children they might not, lest their jobs be next. And of course, a blue ribbon commission is established to find out what went wrong and what needs to be done differently.
If the same county had a tool that it could rely on to prevent child fatalities, that entire hypothetical is a non-issue. The decision to remove a child or maintain the household could be made without caseworkers and investigators factoring in the worst case, statistical anomaly of child fatalities.
Here’s hoping that RSF can live up to its promising start.
Youth Services Insider is mostly written by Chronicle of Social Change Editor-in-Chief John Kelly.