Within Our Reach

Child Safety Forward Releases Final Evaluation Reports

Social Current logo Social Current
September 28, 2023

Reports highlight findings in multi-year effort to develop strategies to reduce child abuse and neglect.

WASHINGTON, DCChild Safety Forward (CSF) today released the final evaluation report of its four-year demonstration initiative funded by the Department of Justice (DOJ) with technical assistance led by Social Current. CSF, which was launched in October 2019 by the DOJ’s Office for Victims of Crime, engaged five sites across the U.S. in the demonstration initiative, which included research, planning and implementation around strategies aimed at reducing child injury and fatality from abuse and neglect.

The CSF demonstration sites include: The Indiana Department of Health; St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut; Cook County Health in Illinois; the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services; and the Sacramento County Child Abuse Prevention Council. Final reports from the sites are available here.

Through CSF, the five demonstration sites received technical assistance from a team of national experts to help plan and implement an all-systems approach to respond to and reduce child maltreatment fatalities and child crime victimization. Technical assistance focused on collecting and analyzing data using a safety science approach; developing strong community collaboratives; engaging persons with lived experience; developing and implementing a communications strategy; addressing systemic bias, racism, and issues of power; and using a developmental evaluation approach.

“Each of the strategies identified and implemented by the five sites were unique and specific to their communities,” commented Amy Templeman, director of Within Our Reach and senior director of child and family well-being at Social Current. “However, they all shared a common trait – they all pivoted away from an approach that only took into account risk factors and broadened their focus to protective factors, which is ultimately at the heart of a public health approach that engages voices of those with lived experience as experts in finding the solutions that will make all lives better.”

Demonstration sites conducted retrospective reviews of child fatality data and/or collected additional community-level and system-level data to inform their implementation plans. The following summarizes the key strategies and learnings from each site:

  • Cook County Health in Illinois: Cook County Health launched a collaborative that engaged representatives from children’s advocacy centers, youth and family services, hospitals, local and state government, local school districts, and family-serving nonprofits. The strategy was developed from a retrospective review and a needs assessment by Cook County Health with key actors in the child welfare system in Cook, Peoria, and Vermillion Counties. Findings revealed gaps in the child welfare system and highlighted the need for better coordination and collaboration around identifying and managing child abuse cases, improved parenting education, and greater access to prevention services. The resulting project strategies included the use of simulation training to improve skills of child welfare investigators and law enforcement; multidisciplinary team training around collaborative skills and improved decision making; the use of geospatial risk analysis mapping to identify neighborhoods for targeted planning of service implementation, participation in a safe sleep campaign; and the development of a parent education curriculum focused on protective factors.  
  • Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford, Connecticut: The Hartford team launched a Parent Engagement Work Group, made up of individuals with lived experience with child- and family-serving systems. Challenges with accessing data from state agencies led them to focus on qualitative interviews with child protective agencies, law enforcement, educators, community members, impacted parents, and youth. They also used publicly available data about child fatalities. The resulting data revealed several issues with current practices, including a lack of trust by underserved communities of providers, especially of CPS, and their recommendations; cultural practices in the community that reflect global perspectives on child-rearing; and the punitive framing and lack of preventive supports, such as parenting classes and car seats. The resulting project strategies emphasized grassroots organizing to connect with parents, others with lived experience, and community groups to learn about the risks for child maltreatment. They also identified cultural strengths and protective factors in underserved populations and parent and community perceptions of both Child Protective Services (CPS), which led to the development of a new parent curriculum.
  • The Indiana Department of Health (IDOH): IDOH launched a five-year data retrospective of child deaths in the four counties that experienced the highest number of child fatalities in the state. They also conducted interviews with practitioners and families in the systems involved with child death, including child welfare, public health, education, criminal justice, and others to learn about barriers and enablers that relate to identification and prevention. Findings from this review highlighted the fact that 27% of child deaths were sleep-related infant deaths (SUIDs) and children of color were overrepresented in 38% of these deaths. This led to a focus on improving processes around the child fatality review (CFR) process, greater cross-system information sharing, policy changes, and development and implementation of improved data. Over the course of the initiative, IDOH was able to improve the quality of the CFR process, increase cross-system collaboration, and develop and launch a data-informed statewide infant safe sleep campaign. The impact of these changes has been significant, with a 60% decrease in SUID rates, a 28% decrease in child fatalities due to external injury, passage of two new state laws to reduce child fatalities, and more than 1.5 million views for the statewide infant safe sleep campaign videos.
  • Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS): In partnership with the Michigan Public Health Institute (MPHI), MDHHS utilized a broad and diverse advisory body comprised of nontraditional partners including those with lived experience to guide data inquiry and development of their initiative. Using this novel approach, the results of the data inquiry led to the conclusion that 20% of cases had been classified as Category III (evidence of child abuse or neglect but low risk of future harm to the child) and that more could be done to follow up with families to prevent a future fatality. A retrospective review of these cases revealed that support provided to families during Child Protective Services (CPS) investigations was varied and inconsistent. In response to this finding, the site’s strategies leveraged aspects of collective impact to improve strategic communication and build learning capacity and information-driven decision making with critical partners. Efforts focused on improving safety planning across the child welfare systems by building capacity to engage families and support immediate safety needs and expanding access to a Family Resource Center network across Michigan. 
  • The Sacramento County Prevention Council in Sacramento, California: Sacramento County had an existing foundation for successful multisystem partnerships, and this served as a springboard for the CSF project. CSF helped grow the CSF Sacramento County Prevention Cabinet and developed strategies to support their overarching vision to eliminate child abuse and neglect deaths and critical injuries by 2030. The Prevention Cabinet leveraged the collective impact model for this collaborative, as well as partnership experiences from other projects and initiatives in Sacramento County. As a critical step in the work to more intentionally and authentically center community voice and share power, the community engagement subcommittee instituted the recruitment of community representatives to contribute to the work and add lived experience to the Cabinet. The Prevention Cabinet now consists of more than 30 cross-systems leaders that come from public systems, private nonprofits, and the community who are developing and implementing a strategic plan focused on systems change. In July 2023, the Sacramento Child Safety Forward team secured a grant from California Accountable Communities for Health Initiative (CACHI) to continue to support their work and share their findings with the field through December 2025.

Some of the key lessons learned and takeaways from the initiative include:

  • Importance of communications: Sustained communications strategies that widen the media’s reporting lens and shift traditional ways of thinking about child abuse and neglect are critical for achieving positive outcomes for children and families. Effective communications break down existing siloes and helps all system actors work together to unify their messaging and outreach efforts. Sustained communications are built on strong, collaborative relationships between agency leaders, funders, media, and community. 
  • Access to better data: Across the country, data infrastructure to identify child fatalities and understand its causes is insufficient. While states collect relevant data, in many cases, information is broken up and isolated in different systems that don’t share it with other providers, creating gaps in our understanding of the challenges, potential solutions, and even the systems that work to address them. To reach a stronger child and family well-being system, we need a strong data culture, where all practitioners involved have a sense of stewardship of the data, and a shared accountability for collecting good data and using it in their decision making.
  • Use of Developmental Evaluation: Developmental evaluation is an evaluation approach that supports innovation and guides adaptation to emergent and dynamic realities in complex environments. Developmental evaluation was used in the CSF initiative as a method to help sites understand the landscape and context in which they were working, collect and make sense of data, and test possible approaches to address community needs and system gaps. As sites ran into barriers, the full technical assistance team offered tools to help reflect on what they were learning, shift their thinking, realign existing partners, and bring in new ones, and explore innovative approaches. This flexibility to learn and incorporate new partners was fundamental and served as a pathway to child safety through the approaches sites took, which were novel, responsive, and systems-focused. 
  • Equity, Power Shifting, and Parent Engagement: While data shows that child fatality rates are disproportionately experienced by people of color, many of these deaths could be prevented by addressing unjust conditions rooted in systemic bias, racism, and intersectional inequities. Fostering a system that successfully promotes family and child well-being across populations requires eliminating the adversarial relationship between systems and parents that is largely attributed to inequitable power dynamics. 

Parent engagement strategies often end up being transactional and unidirectional. To address this, we must unlearn, test new infrastructures and ways to building partnerships with parents, and relearn as a system how to effectively address the existing power imbalance that makes it difficult for the system and parents to be united in their commitment to keeping children safe and at home.

“Child Safety Forward’s ability to evolve over time is one of the keys to its success,” noted Stacy Phillips, Victim Justice Program Specialist with the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) within the U.S. Department of Justice. “The technical assistance team worked to create a culture of learning around the many strategies developed by the sites and were able to support sites in building flexibility into their approach. OVC was proud to support this work and contribute toward an extensive community of learning across the field with regard to reducing child maltreatment and fatalities.”

About the Within Our Reach Office 

Within Our Reach is an office established within Social Current to further the recommendations of the federal Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities. The goal of Within Our Reach is to equip policymakers, practitioners, and advocates with the tools they need to fundamentally reform child welfare. Based on the commission’s national strategy, desired reform includes a proactive public health approach—a shared family and community responsibility to keep children safe. Within Our Reach is made possible through collaboration with Casey Family Programs, whose mission is to provide, improve, and prevent the need for foster care.   

Disclaimer: This product was supported by cooperative agreement number 2019-V3-GX-K005, awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this product are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice. 

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