A Child Abuse Prediction Model Fails Poor Families

Eubanks, Virginia

It's late November 2016, and I’m squeezed into the far corner of a long row of gray cubicles in the call screening center for the Allegheny County Office of Children, Youth and Families (CYF) child neglect and abuse hotline. I’m sharing a desk and a tiny purple footstool with intake screener Pat Gordon. We’re both studying the Key Information and Demographics System (KIDS), a blue screen filled with case notes, demographic data, and program statistics. We are focused on the records of two families: both are poor, white, and living in the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Both were referred to CYF by a mandated reporter, a professional who is legally required to report any suspicion that a child may be at risk of harm from their caregiver. Pat and I are competing to see if we can guess how a new predictive risk model the county is using to forecast child abuse and neglect, called the Allegheny Family Screening Tool (AFST), will score them.