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THE RESEARCH RESOURCE

Volume 10 | August 2015 

 

A Letter from Our Director

 

The end of spring and the start of summer is always a busy and exciting time here at the Children and Family Research Center. We're wrapping up our annual monitoring report for the B.H. Consent Degree, which describes trends in outcomes of safety, permanency, and well-being for foster children in Illinois. Soon, the report for fiscal year 2015 will be posted on our website. We hope everyone will take some time to read it.

 

We also recommend you read the report from the independent panel of experts appointed by Judge Jorge Alonso, reviewing the Department of Children and Family Services' care of children with special needs.In part, the report reaffirms the importance of independent monitoring of DCFS, a role that we are honored and humbled to play. Our new Outcome Charts tool is one part of that monitoring. Visit it by clicking here, and read more about it below.

 

In other news, there have been some changes here at CFRC since our last newsletter. We welcomed a new research specialist and said goodbye to our longtime administrative assistant Toni Sellers who retired at the end of June.

  

I hope you enjoy this quarter's newsletter. As always, we'd love to hear from you. You can find our contact info at the end of the newsletter. Thanks for reading!

Tamara Fuller, Ph.D., Director, Children and Family Research Center

Project Updates and News

Upcoming CQI Conference

On Friday, November 6, CFRC, the Foster Care Utilization Review Program (FCURP), and the University of Illinois School of Social Work are sponsoring a conference on continuous quality improvement (CQI). The conference will be held at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and will feature keynote speaker Peter Watson, Director of the Children, Youth and Families/Justice Policy Programs at the University of Southern Maine's Cutler Institute for Health & Social Policy. Read more about the conference here. We can't wait to see you!

B.H. Report for 2015

 

The monitoring report of the B.H. consent decree is our annual report on the status of foster children in the state of Illinois. It is CFRC's seminal publication, the result of the same decree that led to the founding of our center. This year's report is currently under review with B.H. consent decree plaintiff and defense attorneys. When finalized, a digital version of the report will be available on our website. 

 

Annual CERAP Report Now Available


In May, CFRC completed the annual report that examines the reliability and validity of the Illinois Child Endangerment Risk Assessment Protocol (CERAP), which is used by caseworkers to assess children's safety in their homes of origin.  The goal of this year's annual CERAP evaluation was to examine caseworker compliance with required CERAP safety assessments while children are in out-of-home care placements. The results of the analyses suggest that compliance with required assessments is low; for example, only 25% of the children reunified with their parents in 2014 had a documented safety assessment in the 24 hours prior to their return home.  Recommendations to improve compliance with safety assessments in placement cases were included in the full report, which you can read here.

 

Other Project Updates


We are nearly ready to begin data collection from parents and workers in our evaluation of Oregon's differential response (DR) initiative. We will collect data from counties with and without DR, matched based on county demographics. In these counties we will collect data from both parents involved with CPS, and caseworkers. For parents, we aim to assess their perceptions of their caseworkers, including satisfaction, availability of services, and perceptions of family trauma related to CPS involvement. For caseworkers, we aim to assess areas like caseloads, service availability, and work satisfaction.

 

In Wisconsin, our assessment of the state's post-reunification support (P.S.) program also continues. Data collection is ongoing with families, including baseline and follow-up measures. Additionally, we collect monthly feedback from caseworkers about their work with clients in the program. 

 

Conference Presentations

 

Dr. Ted Cross recently presented a comparison of medical and forensic findings from exams conducted with child, adolescent, and adult victims of sexual assault at the 23rd annual colloquium of the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC) in Boston, MA. Results came from his National Institute of Justice-funded study of 563 medical examinations conducted across Massachusetts from 2008 to 2010, and incorporated data from crime laboratory and police reports as well as medical documentation. You can see Dr. Cross' presentation here.

 

The results of Dr. Cross' analyses show the sex crimes committed against adolescents are more similar to those committed against adults than those committed against children. The experience of adolescent victims presents severe challenges that are different from those of younger victims, challenges similar to those faced by adults. They were at higher risk for injury and for cases being dropped by police.  Biological evidence was more prevalent too, which can enhance opportunities for pursuing justice but also places a premium on adolescents undergoing medical examination. The needs of youth as young as 12 are different from both younger children and adults, and systems and practice models have not been developed that are specifically tailored to this age group. These results could help the development of enhanced models of care specifically aimed at adolescent victims of sexual assault.

 

In late October, Dr. Tami Fuller and Dr. Saijun Zhang will present at the

in Minneapolis, MN. Many of us here at CFRC will be at this conference, so let us know if you will be too!

 

Comings and Goings

The past few months have seen some major changes in the faces of CFRC. First, in late March, Dr. Michael T. Braun joined the staff of CFRC as a research specialist. Dr. Braun completed his Ph.D. in communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2013 and spent the last two years teaching at a small university. He is excited to bring his research knowledge of communication technology and family communication to the child welfare field.

 

CFRC also said goodbye to two amazing people this summer. In late June, our longtime administrator/secretary/receptionist Toni Sellers retired. We celebrated with Pandamonium Donuts (a local favorite) and, somehow, numerous stories of run-ins with giant bugs. Our front desk feels empty without Toni!

 

We also bid goodbye to longtime graduate assistant Megan Paceley. Megan has finished her Ph.D. and is heading to the University of Kansas to begin work as an assistant professor. We are sure we will continue to collaborate with Megan (Dr. Paceley!) in the future, but we do wish she had delayed her dissertation defense just a few more... decades!... so that we could keep her in office. You can follow Megan's work on Twitter @MeganPaceley.


Inside CFRC

 

In each newsletter, we feature a behind-the-scenes look at the work that went into one of our projects. This month, we talk with our website wiz Dan Phillips about putting together the new Outcome Charts tool, part of the CFRC Data Center on our website. 

 

Q: What is the Outcome Charts Tool?

Basically, the Outcome Charts Tool is a new way for people to experience our data, and to customize it for their own specific needs. By "our data," I mean both the metrics we collect for our annual report to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, as well as some broader measures of the foster care population, like numbers of kids in and entering care, and indication rates. The best explanation might be the tool itself, which you can check out here

 

Q: What specifically is new about it?

We've always shared tables of the data we use for the Conditions report in our Data Center--tables that break down demographically (age, race, gender) as well as geographically (county, region, etc.). For some people, these tables are all they need, but we wondered if a visualization of the data might also be useful. With tables, to determine the rise or fall of a given metric across time, you have to scan the numbers from year to year. But with a simple line chart, that rise or fall is obviously, literally more visible--maybe even dramatically so, in some cases! What's more, instead of presenting, say, all of the subregions at once (as we do in our tables), what if we allowed people to track just the subsets they care about? So they could look at just southern Illinois subregions, for example. And, taking it one step further, what if they only wanted to see the Hispanic population within those subregions? You get the idea. We want to let people see as little or as much data as they want, to customize it as they see fit.

 

Q: What inspired this direction towards charts?

We noticed other websites that were breaking down their data in much the same way we were, only presenting it in chart as well as table form.  A great example is the Annie E. Casey Kids Count Data Center. They have tables available, but they also have these "graph" tabs where you can flip over to a line or bar graph. We thought maybe we could provide a similar kind of presentation for our data. The Kids Count site was a huge inspiration.

 

Q: Do you have any ideas for improving the Outcome Charts Tool in the future?

Yes!  Right now the geographic choices are limited to regions and subregions, but we want to expand to include counties and maybe even LANs and Chicago Communities down the road.  Also it'd be nice if the CFRC site changed format, allowing for more screen space in which we could incorporate heat maps. Conveniently enough, I'm in charge of the CFRC site generally, so I don't think I'll be holding myself up in that department! Of course, I'm always interested in getting feedback for new ideas directly--email me at danzap@illinois.edu. Thanks!  

 

 

This image shows some of the types of charts you can generate using the new Outcome Charts Tool.

  

What We're Reading

 

July marked the start of CFRC's journal club, a monthly meeting to discuss research. For our inaugural meeting, we read a report for the Vera Institute of Justice by lead author Marni Finkelstein titled "Youth Who Chronically AWOL from Foster Care."

 

We chose this reading because of the report's extensive quoting of teens who run from care and the staff members charged with handling this. The report is a good reminder of a few issues related to youth running from care:

  1. It is far more common for youth to run when services like public transportation are available.
  2. More youth are running to something rather than from something. That is, most are running back to friends or family to spend time with them. Few are actively fleeing a situation and trying to escape and disappear.
  3. Especially for older youth in care, running away seems more a part of healthy autonomy development than deviancy.

Another reading that caught our attention is a recent article by Dr. Amy Gonzales, an assistant professor in the Telecommunications Department at Indiana University. The article, titled "The Contemporary Digital Divide: From Initial Access to Technology Maintenance" was published in the journal Information, Communication & Society.

 

In this article, Dr. Gonzales describes the concept "technology maintenance," ongoing costs of using technology that are separate from initial costs. Think of this example with smartphones: While many people can afford to purchase a smartphone (thanks largely to carrier subsidies), ongoing costs (like the monthly bill, data overage charges, and repair costs should the phone break) mean poorer users may experience "dependable instability," periods of time in which the user has no access.

 

For children in care, this issue is important. It isn't enough to provide access to technology; we must also recognize the need for stopgap measures to help youth in care deal with this instability. For example, if caseworkers wish to communicate with youth in care via text message, they must also prepare for the inevitable costs associated with such technology use. What will the caseworker do if the child runs out of minutes or cannot pay the monthly bill? What if the child's phone breaks? The digital divide is about much more than mere access, something Dr. Gonzales illustrates in her article. 

 

Connect with Us

 

We want to hear from you! You can contact CFRC at cfrc@illinois.edu or via phone at (217) 333-5837. Visit our website at http://cfrc.illinois.edu. Follow the School of Social Work on Twitter @UofISocialWork or like the school on Facebook.

 

Thanks for reading! Look for our next newsletter in November.