Stopping child abuse before it starts


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Alarmingly, Tarrant County had the most reported child abuse cases in the state in 2014.

The Department of Family and Protective Services confirmed more than 6,000 cases of child abuse or neglect, a significant jump from 2013’s 5,689 reported cases.

In 2015, there were 6,213 cases here — the second-highest in the state.

The number keeps growing, and with an overwhelmed Child Protective Services agency and booming population, trying to reduce the number of child abuse victims is a challenge.

But what if you could stop it before it even starts?

A well-known movie and comic book event played around with the fantastical notion of predicting crime before it happens.

Now a few researchers have come very close to figuring that out for child abuse and neglect.

Cook Children’s Center for Prevention of Child Maltreatment in Fort Worth and TCU’s Department of Criminal Justice teamed up to use risk terrain modeling to more accurately pinpoint areas of likely child abuse or maltreatment.

Differing from traditional “hot spot” maps, risk terrain modeling takes into account the leading factors for child abuse and the significance of those factors.

The study lists poverty, domestic violence, aggravated assaults, runaways, murders and drug crimes as the six most significant risk factors, but it also focuses on how those factors relate to one another.

Researchers used risk terrain modeling to find areas of future cases of child abuse in Fort Worth and published their results in the December 2016 issue of Child Abuse & Neglect: The International Journal.

The researchers used 2013’s data to see how accurately it could be used to predict 2014’s confirmed cases in Fort Worth.

It correctly predicted 98 percent of the cases. It can even narrow the location down to a city block.

“This new approach has the potential to aid practitioners in finding the most vulnerable children before they are harmed and it enables intervention programs to concentrate and allocate limited resources in the most effective ways,” the report says.

Having this information can help organizations focus their efforts on areas that need awareness and prevention programs the most.