Feature Stories

Tackling A Difficult Issue

Big data project helps efforts to reduce child abuse and neglect

Cook Children’s Health Care System is collaborating with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) and TACC to bring great minds together with the help of data science and supercomputing resources.

The effort is called PRO-TX: Prevention Resource Optimization for Texas — its goal is to help lower the risk of child abuse and neglect throughout the state.

“Texas is a large, diverse state and we know there are many communities where children and families experience adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that are highly correlated with child abuse and neglect,” said Chris Pedigo, senior vice president of System Planning at Cook Children’s. “Identifying communities at higher risk that could benefit from additional support may help lower future risk.” Pedigo also oversees the Center for Children’s Health.

“Texas is very large and there are a lot of situations where individuals have adverse childhood experiences, including rural communities with very limited primary care access and limited social services infrastructure.”
Chris Pedigo, Associate Vice President of System Planning, Cook Children's

Cook Children’s has been working to understand how to mitigate this risk by allocating community resources in a strategic way. The project combines healthcare insight and research from their organization — along with data from DFPS, the U.S. census, industry research, and public and private data sources.

Knowing the need for a strong partner to assist with supercomputing capabilities, Cook Children’s reached out to TACC to harness its secure infrastructure, progressive security capabilities, and the data science and research experience required when analyzing sensitive data.

“We’re working together to look at the geographic distribution of demographic variables, locations of health resources, commercial resources, and other data to look for trends which signal areas in need of the right resources to relieve the stresses that can lead to child maltreatment,” said Niall Gaffney, TACC’s director of Data Intensive Computing.

“TACC is also deploying a discovery portal for this data that will better inform the practitioners and policymakers who can implement changes needed to support these communities,” Gaffney continued.

Michael Bachmann at Texas Christian University — the inventor of PRO-TX and lead data consultant — envisions PRO-TX as a multifunctional platform that looks at locations, not individuals, to forecast which areas are more likely to see a rise in child maltreatment or a decline.

“Not only can the platform set alerts for discrete areas that the machine learning algorithms forecast to increase notably, but it also provides guidance to agencies and organizations regarding resource allocation,” Bachmann said. “Furthermore, it uses regularly updated resource lists and maps to show key stakeholders where helpful resources are located and where new ones could be considered.”

The first stage of building the portal is complete. Next, the team will work with DFPS to conduct a usability study to evaluate the portal and provide insight for any necessary changes.

Gaffney concluded:“The overall team brings together people with many different views and experiences allowing as many people and agencies as possible to understand what the data tells us and how to have the greatest impact possible — this provides the right support for communities to reduce the risk of harm to children.”