At the request of a distinguished commenter, I will try to help readers make sense of the statistics found in the Child Welfare Data Dashboard. To that end, I will try posting monthly updates — corresponding with DCF’s data updates — with an eye toward big picture trends and projections of things to come. The projections are crude, based on the trends seen variable by variable. We haven’t tried to model the system or build projections based on outside factors. But maybe in the future we will.
The July 2016 numbers are pretty steady from June. The summer months traditionally have fewer investigations — and this month was no exception. We should expect seasonal investigation increases of up to 20% in some areas once school begins.
Statewide abuse allegations continued to rise to 18,266 in May 2016, up 7.6% from 16,968 in May of the previous year. Statewide verification rates in July were down to 13.3% of all investigations compared to 14.4% in May the previous year. On the other hand, Statewide removal rates continued to rise slightly at 1,275, up from 1,230 in July of the previous year.
Removals were highest in Miami-Dade (125 children) and Hillsborough (123 children). Removals per 10,000 were highest in the relatively small county of Desoto (19.32 per 10,000). By CBC, removals were highest for Our Kids, the Eckerds, and Kids Central. Per 10,000 by CBC, removals were highest in the Northwest, Northeast, and Sarasota area. Family Support Services had the lowest removals at 0.972 per 10,000.
Relative caregivers continued to dominate the out-of-home care system at 10,217 or 44.32% of all children placed out of their homes. Family foster homes came in second at 7,217 or 31.30%. We are in the middle of an interesting transition for third place: nonrelative placements overtook facility foster homes in September 2015 and the trend appears to be stable. In July 2016, non-relatives were 11.08% and facilities were 10.40% of all out-of-home care placements. The trend is not seen in the Southeast Region, which historically relies heavily on facility foster placements.
There were 1,127 children discharged in July 2016, up 8.1% from 1,042 in July of the previous year. Over half, 53.8%, of discharges were reunifications, while 21.7% were guardianships, and 14.6% were adoptions. Discharges due to youth aging out of care accounted for 9.76% of total discharges.
These projections use very simple linear models built into Tableau to look at future trends along each variable independently. These projections are based on current trends and do not take into account any outside factors: agency policy changes and responses to public events can completely negate or reverse the course of trends, so caution is warranted. Currently the projections suggest the following regional patterns.
Statewide: expect modest increases in the OOHC population as summer ends, and a decrease in IHC driven largely by a slight reduction in the number of discharges from OOHC across the state. We may be seeing the end of the expansion that began in June 2013 with the exit of Secretary Wilkins — about half of the Regions have already begun their contractions. Expect a continued decrease in the number of children placed with relatives while the number of children in family foster homes and non-relative placements continues to increase.
Northwest Region: expect the number of removals to continue to significantly outpace the number of discharges, resulting in increased OOHC population. Expect the number of IHC cases to stabilize as the region reaches the roughly 2:1 ratio found around the rest of the state. The number of family and facility foster placements has shown no sign of increasing, so expect even higher reliance on relative placements and lack of placement “growing pains” for youth who do not have available kin. The spike in both OOHC and IHC during 2015 appear unique to this region and deserve more exploration. Beware of “pendulum” swings as stakeholders become aware of steep shifts and attempt to over-correct.
Northeast Region: expect relatively steady OOHC and IHC populations with a reduced reliance on family foster homes and slight increase in non-relative placements. We may be seeing the end of the current expansion. If discharge rates continue to remain low, expect a possible increase in the OOHC population not shown in the graph above.
Central Region: expect an increase in OOHC and IHC populations, driven largely by lower discharge rates and historically irregular case closure rates. The current expansion appears to be continuing. Consider working with courts to review cases that are ready for termination of supervision more consistently. Expect a reduction in relative caregiver placements as cases from the 2014 spike continue to close out. Also expect an increased reliance on non-relative placements as family foster placements do not appear to be rising.
Suncoast Region: expect a continued increase in OOHC and IHC populations, driven largely by a decrease in discharges and intermittent spikes in discharges. The current expansion appears to be continuing. Expect a continued reduction in relative placements as children placed with relatives enter permanent guardianships. Family foster home capacity has remained fairly constant over the past 9 years, which does not reflect the reality of a growing OOHC population. Expect “growing pains” if more foster homes are not recruited or discharges are not spread out more evenly.
Southeast Region: expect a large decrease in OOHC population as cases from the current expansion continue to clear out. Expect a decrease in relative caregiver placements and a relatively steady number of other placements. Beware of “pendulum” swings as stakeholders become aware of steep shifts and attempt to over-correct.
Southern Region: expect a slight decrease in OOHC and an increasingly steep reduction in IHC as discharges and closures outpace removals. We may be nearing the end of the current retraction. Permanent guardianships and adoptions have been increasing over time and show no signs of slowing, while reunifications have been steady or slightly decreasing. As cases from the previous expansion clear out, expect an increasing reliance on family foster homes as opposed to relatives.
The numbers in these graphs are from the DCF Child Welfare Trend Reports. We have made every effort to display the data as originally published by the Department, but we encourage readers to verify any data in the original reports before using it for anything important. The predictions are very limited and based solely on information found in the trend reports. No one should take any actions on these projections alone.