Traube Granted Access to Child Welfare Data
Dorian Traube, assistant professor of the USC School of Social Work, became the first researcher to receive access to an expansive collection of data on the mental health of children in foster care in Los Angeles County after securing a pilot grant from the Southern California Clinical and Translational Science Institute.
The $30,000 award will enable Traube to partner with county mental health and child welfare officials to explore data on how well children in foster care are screened and treated for mental health issues.
“I’m the first person outside of the Department of Mental Health or the Department of Children and Family Services to be given access to this information,” she said. “They are very protective of this data because it’s such a vulnerable population.”
County mental health and child welfare officials began gathering the data in response to a class action lawsuit brought against the state alleging that not enough was being done to provide adequate mental health care for children in the foster care system.
Over a four-year period, Los Angeles County officials have screened roughly 60,000 children who came in contact with the child welfare system. Traube will examine the assessment tool to determine whether it is effective in screening for mental health problems.
“The people in the child welfare offices aren’t mental health practitioners; they are child welfare social workers,” she said. “They are trained to look at other things to figure out if a child is being abused or neglected, not if they have mental health needs.”
Approximately 60 percent of children who are screened using the assessment tool are determined to require mental health care, a figure that Traube described as higher than previous assessments.
“I have a feeling that it’s a pretty accurate estimate,” she said, “especially if you think about the damage that maltreatment causes.”
She hopes to validate the assessment tool and have it listed in the California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare, an online resource that reviews and rates practices and assessment tools related to adolescent and child welfare.
Traube will also track the progress of a smaller sample of children, who screened positive for mental health problems, to examine what services they received, how long their treatment lasted, and other aspects of their care.
She expects to find that it is difficult for the Department of Mental Health to keep families in treatment, particularly those who are not mandated by the court system to remain in treatment.
“This data has always been collected on these kids; it’s just never been linked and looked at to see what happens over the course of time,” she said.
- Master of Social Work