Untangling a Traffic Challenge that Thwarts Family Visitation in Los Angeles

Chapin Hall analyzes data to decrease travel times, identify best locations

Can traffic be a child welfare problem? In Los Angeles, absolutely.

Caseworkers in Los Angeles’ Department of Children and Family Services are responsible for overseeing 18,000 children in the county’s foster care system. To help facilitate family reunification, it’s important that children have regular visits with their biological families. But facilitating those visits can result in caseworkers spending many valuable hours navigating the area’s notoriously congested roads.

What to do? The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, with the support of several private funders, contracted with Chapin Hall to answer that question. As part of the LA Family Bonding Project, Chapin Hall researchers will examine visitation data provided by the county and conduct geospatial analysis of the locations of children, caregivers and visitation centers. The project presents opportunities to optimize the network of locations where parents and children can see each other, and to understand the relationship between visitation and permanency outcomes.

Past research has demonstrated that visitation has a direct impact on child outcomes. LA County’s reunification rate is below the national average, and the length of time it takes to achieve reunification –10.2 months—is twice as long as the national average. Decreasing travel time will limit the developmental costs of unnecessary time spent transporting children, and increase the time available for family bonding. In addition to increased family contact and decreased travel time, better visitation planning could also mean significant savings for the child welfare agency.

Chapin Hall is also supporting the work of Sidebench, a technology firm that has partnered with the Department of Children and Family Services to develop an app to help caseworkers more efficiently manage visitation scheduling and travel. The app includes critical information –such as parents’ work schedules and functionality that will send automatic texts to parents when visits are scheduled.

Other Chapin Hall team members will analyze the policies that may help or hinder the implementation of visitation innovations, identifying needed policy adjustments to align with new locations and tools. Chapin Hall’s team on this work is led by Policy Fellows Dr. Dana Weiner and Sonali Patel, and Senior Policy Analyst Mike Stiehl. Weiner has analyzed the role of geospatial relationships in child welfare outcomes, and Stiehl has successfully incorporated Geographic Information System mapping to guide implementation and evaluation in child welfare systems.

For more information on this project, contact Dr. Dana Weiner.