Helping Families by the Numbers

One virtue of big data is that it can unlock patterns that bring important insights about helping vulnerable children and families. Numbers, it is said, do not lie.

Jacquelyn McCroskey, the John Milner Professor of Child Welfare at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work and co-director of the Children’s Data Network, had taken a sabbatical from her faculty duties to focus on child abuse prevention within Los Angeles County’s Office of Child Protection. The County runs the largest child welfare agency in the world and operates one of the busiest hotlines, logging 220,000 calls a year reporting suspected child abuse or neglect.

A particular data point caught McCroskey’s attention. After a call to the hotline, only one in ten families offered community services connected to a prevention or support agency. Many families either declined or dropped out during wait times.

“We asked, ‘how can we increase that number?’” McCroskey said.

The answer to that question turned out to be an innovative project known as “Moving Families from Hotline to Helpline” that won her and her County colleagues—including the Office of Child Protection, Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS), Department of Mental Health and others—the County’s prestigious Gold Eagle Award at its annual Productivity and Quality Awards Ceremony held in October 2019.

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