Child Fatalities and Near-Fatalities

Current Documents

What are Child Fatalities and Near-Fatalities?

The County is required by state law to review each death or near-death of a child and use the information to improve practice and systems. The 2008 Act 33 Amendment to the Child Protective Services law requires state and local reviews of all child fatalities and near-fatalities that result from suspected child abuse.

2019-2021 Child Fatalities and Near-Fatalities Key Findings

  • In Allegheny County from 2019 through 2021 there were 58 child fatalities or near fatalities. The number of total incidents rose each of these years, with 2021 experiencing 25—the highest number since the review process was developed in 2008
  • The age distribution of the victims in these years was consistent with the average distribution across all prior years. Most victims (44%, 26) were under one year of age, followed by 9 victims (16%) at age one
  • Blunt force/penetrating trauma (36%, 21) was the leading causes of both fatal and near-fatal injuries.  There were more incidents caused by drug ingestion or poisoning in 2021 (8) than in previous years
  • Most families (58%) had prior CYF involvement and 33% had active involvement at the time of the incident
  • Parents of the children remained the vast majority (70%) of named perpetrators, as with years prior

What can the dashboard tell us?

This dashboard and series of reports describes findings and outcomes from child fatality/near-fatality (CFNF) reviews. Information about the incidents–including victim and perpetrator demographics, cause of death/injury and families’ prior involvement with the child welfare system–is available in these reports as well as case practice and system reforms enacted to reduce the likelihood of future child abuse-related incidents.

Trouble viewing the dashboard below? You can view it directly here.

How is this information being used?

In addition to the state required reporting of child fatalities and near-fatalities, DHS has used the information to make recommendations to prevent these tragedies in the future. These recommendations include:

  • Improved collaboration with medical physicians
  • Upstream prevention and intervention services
  • Integration of the child welfare system and the substance use treatment system
  • Community and firearm violence reduction
  • Applying safety science to child protection

In depth explanations of these recommendations can be found in the “current documents” section above.

Previous reports

Older Youth Pandemic Relief

What is this report about ?

From June to October of 2021, Allegheny County Department of Human Services (DHS) provided a cash assistance program for transition-aged youth called Older Youth Pandemic Relief (OYPR). This report describes the methodology and results of a series of surveys that evaluated the impact of the cash assistance program.

What are the takeaways?

  • 76% (n = 1,901) of the people who were eligible to receive the Older Youth Pandemic Relief (OYPR) payment applied for and received the money.
  • The money went to young adults with a high level of need. 85% of recipients were enrolled in Medicaid, and 49% received Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
  • Young adults planned to spend the money on meeting basic needs; top categories were bills, housing, car, food and clothing.
  • The program re-engaged young adults with services. 587 of the people who applied for (and received) the OYPR payment qualified for other services available to transition-aged youth but were not using them.
  • By filling out the OYPR application, they provided updated contact information and information about the types of assistance they need.
  • The percentage of recipients who reported having enough money to meet their basic needs increased from 25% at baseline to 34% after receiving the money. This increase was larger for Black and female demographic groups, which reported lower ability to meet their basic needs at baseline.

How is this report being used?

Findings from this program and report are being used internally at DHS to advocate for new income assistance programs. These include both direct cash cash transfers and other forms of income support, such as subsidized transit.

Access the dashboard

The dashboard below provides an overview of Allegheny County child welfare out-of-home placements from 2010 through 2021. Data describe yearly point-in-time counts of children in placement (“PIT” tab), characteristics of children in placement, what types of placements were used, how long children stayed there, where they went after their placement ended (also known as exits) and how many returned to the child welfare system after returning home (also known as re-entries). The dashboard is updated annually when a full year of data becomes available.

A related report provides analysis of placement trends over the past decade.

Trouble viewing the dashboard? You can view it directly here.

Related materials

What is Hello Baby?

Hello Baby is a voluntary program for parents of new babies in Allegheny County designed to strengthen families, improve children’s outcomes, and maximize child and family well-being, safety and security. Hello Baby’s tiered prevention model offers a variety of supports designed to meet families’ varied needs and interests through the child’s third year.

How was Hello Baby developed?

Allegheny County Department of Human Services (DHS) undertook an extensive process to develop the Hello Baby prevention strategy. In addition to drawing from decades of experience by DHS leadership, service workers and families, the process included:

  • A review of data and best practices identified in the literature
  • Dozens of individual and group meetings with local service providers, families in the community, social workers, clinical specialists and local, national and international child development experts
  • Two independent, comprehensive reviews by experts in the field

How is Hello Baby being used?

The resulting prevention program has a differentiated approach, with flexible service delivery that is based upon the understanding that each family is unique and has different and varying levels of needs and barriers to support. In addition to self- and community-referral pathways, Hello Baby also uses an innovative and predictive risk model (PRM) that uses integrated data to identify the highest need families eligible for services. Hello Baby includes a universal entry point designed to increase awareness of available support services for all new parents and improve overall engagement rates. It incorporates community level support and proven home visiting techniques, hiring culturally competent staff with lived experiences to support families with moderate to high needs and intensive engagement and service coordination to support families with the highest needs. An evaluation partner has already been selected to ensure that Hello Baby benefits from rapid feedback and learning throughout the implementation.

Related materials

For more information about Hello Baby and to access resources for new parents, visit Hello Baby online.

Recent press coverage of Hello Baby is available here.

The National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance at the Institute of Education Sciences (US Department of Education) examined data from Allegheny County students to better understand predictors of near-term academic risks. The goal of this research to provide information for administrators, researchers, and student support staff in local education agencies who are interested in identifying students who are likely to have near-term academic problems such as absenteeism, suspensions, poor grades, and low performance on state tests.

What is this report about? 

The report describes an approach for developing a predictive model and assesses how well the model identifies at-risk students using data from two local education agencies in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania: a large local education agency and a smaller charter school network. It also examines which types of predictors— in-school variables (performance, behavior, and consequences) and out-of-school variables (human services involvement and public benefit receipt)—are individually related to each type of near-term academic problem to better understand why the model might flag students as at risk and how best to support these students.

What are the takeaways?

The study finds that predictive models using machine learning algorithms identify at-risk students with moderate to high accuracy. In-school variables drawing on school data are the strongest predictors across all outcomes, and predictive performance is not reduced much when out-of-school variables drawing on human services data are excluded and only school data are used. However, some out-of-school events and services—including child welfare involvement, emergency homeless services, and juvenile justice system involvement —are individually related to near-term academic problems. The models are more accurate for the large local education agency than for the smaller charter school network. The models are better at predicting low grade point average, course failure, and scores below the basic level on state tests in grades 3–8 than at predicting chronic absenteeism, suspensions, and scores below the basic level on high school end-of-course standardized tests. The findings suggest that many local education agencies could apply machine learning algorithms to existing school data to identify students who are at risk of near-term academic problems that are known to be precursors to school dropout.

National research shows that young adults transitioning out of foster care into adulthood face more challenges than their peers. This report examines outcomes for Allegheny County young adults who had been in a child welfare placement and exited the system from 2006 through 2016. Outcomes examined include achievement of legal permanency, education, employment, early parenting, homelessness, involvement in mental health and/or substance use disorder treatment, unexpected violent deaths (homicides, overdoses and suicides) and criminal justice involvement. The goal of the analysis was to provide a barometer of those outcomes that affect transition-aged youth and to record County resources that have been directed toward this population.

Read the report here.

Trends in Child Welfare Out-of-Home Placement

What is an out-of-home placement? 

The Allegheny County Department of Human Services (DHS) is mandated by law to protect children under the age of 18 from abuse and neglect. When a child welfare investigation finds that a child is at risk of abuse or neglect, a case is opened, and DHS works with the family to identify natural supports and other supportive services that will help the child remain safely in the home.

If DHS finds that the child cannot continue to reside safely in the home, the case is brought before a judge, who may determine that a temporary home, called an out-of-home placement, is necessary. Whenever possible, out-of-home placements are in homes of relatives or friends of the family (known as kinship care) or in foster homes. Less often, children are placed in congregate care in either a group home or a residential treatment facility. At the end of an out-of-home placement, DHS aims to reunite children with their families whenever possible. If a child cannot return home, DHS works to identify other permanent options such as adoption or permanent legal custodianship.

What data is tracked?

This report and related dashboard provide an overview of child welfare placement dynamics during the decade 2008-2017. Data describe characteristics of children in placement, what types of placements were used, how long children stayed there, where they went after their placement ended (also known as exits) and how many returned to the child welfare system after returning home (also known as re-entries).

Related materials

The Allegheny Family Screening Tool (AFST) is a predictive risk model designed to improve decision-making in Allegheny County’s child welfare system. The tool utilizes hundreds of data elements to predict the likelihood that a child referred for abuse or neglect will later experience a foster care placement. The AFST provides additional information – in conjunction with clinical judgement – to assist child welfare workers making a call screening decision.

After a multi-year process that included rigorous research, community feedback, and independent ethical review, Version 1 of the AFST started being used by call screeners in August 2016. Findings from an independent impact evaluation and a commitment to continuous improvement of the tool led to a rollout of Version 2 in December 2018 that updated the algorithm, data sources, and associated policies.

View a comprehensive packet on the AFST that provides all of the County’s published research and partner evaluations to date or select from the following documents:

Click here to access recent press coverage of the AFST.

In July 2013, the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) and the Allegheny County Department of Human Services (DHS) launched a partnership to better support child welfare-involved youth achieve healthy sexual and identity development. This institutional analysis prepared by CSSP used data analysis, case reviews, and interviews to understand current experiences of LGBTQ+ children and families who interact with child welfare as well as cultural and practice changes that have occurred since the initiative began.

Click here to read the report.

The Center for State Child Welfare Data analyzed Allegheny County data to explore whether the presence of a Family Support Center in a neighborhood is associated with lower child welfare maltreatment investigation rates. The analysis found that areas in Allegheny County served by Family Support Centers had fewer maltreatment investigations once the level of social disadvantage and population size were considered.

Click here to view the full report.

DHS’s full evaluation of the Allegheny County Family Support Center network is available here. 

Teens in foster care sometimes face challenges when it comes to getting permission to do things like spending the night at a friend’s house, using the internet, or joining a school sports team. The Allegheny County Department of Human Services (DHS) wanted to find out more about the perspective of teens in foster care, so we asked 300 teens about their ability to participate in a range of school and social activities.

The majority of teens surveyed felt that they could participate in most of the activities we asked about. For example, almost all teens said they could choose their own style of clothing, access information about safe sex, and use the internet. Activities that were found to be the most difficult for teens in foster care included having a job (51% said they were unable) and sleeping over at a friend’s house (41% said they were unable). Teens in family-based settings were generally able to participate in more activities than teens in group care, and for most activities, more boys than girls said they were able to participate.

See the full report for an analysis of all survey results as well as a comparison of responses by teens’ placement type, gender and race.

In an effort to provide affirming services to LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, queer/questioning) communities involved with Allegheny County’s Department of Human Services (DHS), the first Department-wide LGBTQ work group began in 2009. At that time, sexual orientation and gender identity were not frequently discussed as part of DHS practice. By 2016, DHS had made great strides in affirming LGBTQ communities. Work within DHS and with community partners led to written practice guidance related to gender and sexuality, improved understanding of bias in the workplace, the creation of an LGBTQ advisory council, and improved data collection related to gender and sexuality.

This report shares DHS’s experiences from 2009 through 2016 as it worked to better understand and serve the LGBTQ communities of Allegheny County. We share our strategies, challenges and lessons learned with the hope that others can learn from them.

Click here to read the report. 

In Allegheny County in 2016, 73 children in child welfare out-of-home placements ran away. This represents three percent of all children and nine percent of children ages 12 through 18 who were in placement that year. In this data brief, we analyze the factors that may contribute to runaway episodes in Allegheny County’s child welfare system such as demographics of the children and their placement types prior to running away.

Click here to read the data brief.

Single Mothers Living in Poverty

Approximately 40 percent of the families headed by single mothers in Allegheny County are living below the poverty line, while only four percent of two-parent families are living in poverty. This data brief takes a closer look at families in the region led by single mothers, describes how they fare in comparison to other types of families, and maps where they live in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.

Click here to read the data brief.

Youth Perspectives on Out-of-Home Placement

From 2012 through 2015, 1,255 youth ages 14 through 17 entered into out-of-home placements in Allegheny County. Out-of-home placement settings include foster care, group homes, residential facilities, living with a relative or friend, and supervised independent living. We surveyed 200 of these youth to gain a better understanding of their experiences in the child welfare system. This report includes our key findings and an exploration of respondents’ ideas about how their experiences with the child welfare system could be improved. We will use the results to guide future planning and program development.

Click here to read the report.