Child Welfare and Service Availability

A key factor in determining whether a child can safely remain in the home and when and how reunification occurs is parental compliance with service plan requirements such as participating in parenting classes, attending visitation, and completing substance abuse treatment.  Currently, very little research exists that examines how environmental and structural factors related to service use (i.e. accessibility and availability) may influence a parent’s ability to comply. 

Models for examining location-based service availability for families in the child welfare system have been developed and implemented in limited geographic areas throughout the United States. For example New York City has developed neighborhood-based networks to collaborate around service provision in geographically identified community districts (Chahine et al., 2005).  The premise behind the strategy is that parents may be more likely to participate in services that are located in areas that are convenient and comfortable.  In their model, collaborations of service providers are essential in identifying gaps in service delivery and provision.  However, this approach did not include any geographic or spatial assessment of service availability, limiting the information that could be ascertained by networking among professionals alone.  A second model for examining service availability is the Matching Needs and Services (MNS) tool.  This particular model provides a framework for planning more effective services by determining the types of needs among the target population that are most prevalent, implementing new services or improving existing service delivery, and evaluating the services to see whether the outcomes of interest have improved (Taylor, 2005).


By conducting a suitability analysis of rates of entry into foster care for Los Angeles County’s 282 zip codes, more information on those areas with high and low needs for additional services can be determined.  A suitability analysis using kernel density to create rasters of demand (as determined by foster care entry rate) and supply (as determined by density of social service agencies) then combined the supply and demand measures to give a description of how availability of social services are related to child maltreatment in zip codes. 


Specifically, the final maps were the result of an overlay where:

Service Need = demand – supply

The maps generated from this procedure suggest locations where increased service provision may reduce maltreatment or enhance reunification rates.

The map above shows one geographically large area (in northern LA) that has a high need (as determined by foster care entries) but low supply of social service agencies.  There are other smaller areas interspersed throughout the county, including those in the South Service Planning Area and along the central coast of the Pacific Ocean in Los Angeles County.  It is important to note that although the Antelope Valley region of Los Angeles County exhibits a relatively high unmet need for services, the map is a bit misleading as this area is also less densely populated than other portions of Los Angeles County. Although it encompasses a large geographic region, it may not be the most cost-effective approach to focus solely on this area for intervention.