SAS® Analytics to help protect at-risk kids and reduce fatalities in NC county

New Hanover County social services using analytics to prioritize cases and establish model for state

Faced with rising numbers of abused and neglected children, New Hanover County, NC, will be the first in the state to use predictive analytics to identify and track risk factors for children. Funded by a grant from The Duke Endowment, the county will use SAS® Analytics to help protect at-risk kids and keep them alive.

“We need to focus on the kids who need help the most,” said Wanda Marino, Assistant Director of the New Hanover County Department of Social Services (DSS). “Analytics will help us examine current caseloads and assess real risk. By prioritizing our activities, we’ll keep more children safe.”

New Hanover County DSS processes 300 reports of child abuse or neglect every month, a sharp increase from the past. DSS has extensive data on the children in its care. Analyzing that data can show which children are at the highest risk of abuse or death.

By integrating data from a variety of sources, such as criminal justice and public health databases, the system will alert DSS workers to possible changes to a child’s risk while that child is in their charge.

"With so many children in their charge, caseworkers can’t know every change in a child’s life as it happens. Some changes create a more dangerous environment,” said Will Jones, human services and child well-being expert at SAS. “The system can uncover patterns of data that are highly suggestive of a hazardous or abusive situation, allowing caseworkers to bring help to the helpless.”

Some developments that might indicate additional risk include 911 calls from the home, arrests of family members, new individuals in the home, increased school absences or new investigations.

Aggressive goals to help children and save money

New Hanover County DSS has set bold goals for the system: reducing child fatalities and the number of children in paid placement – foster or group homes, and residential treatment centers. DSS also hopes to increase the rate of “permanency,” a permanent home for the child.

In addition to being better for kids, reducing paid placements and increasing permanency will save DSS an estimated $1,060,000 annually. The system should also reduce repeat maltreatments. Highlighting cases that have the highest risk of maltreatment allows workers and supervisors to initiate proactive interventions. By easing the load on overburdened caseworkers, DSS also hopes to increase worker satisfaction and stability, leading to decreased turnover.

“While we anticipate many benefits from the new system, nothing is more important than saving a child’s life. Analytics, in the hands of caring and dedicated caseworkers, can help us do that,” said Marino.  

Statewide benefits

Nearly 70,000 reports of child abuse or neglect are investigated each year in North Carolina. A successful project in New Hanover County could serve as a model for other counties in the state, and beyond.

“Analytics can help protect society’s most vulnerable members,” said Paula Henderson, Vice President of the SAS State and Local Government Practice. “The groundbreaking work with New Hanover County will help us create a repeatable child well-being system that even budget-strapped counties can implement.”

SAS offers a variety of analytics solutions to improve child well-being. Learn more about how data protects at-risk children.

About New Hanover County

At less than 200 square miles, New Hanover County is the second smallest of the 100 North Carolina counties; however, it is home to more than 216,000 people. Located on the coast, New Hanover County is comprised of the City of Wilmington, Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, and several unincorporated areas. The county’s Department of Social Services provides assistance to all New Hanover County citizens with basic subsistence needs. Working in collaboration with public and private organizations, DSS protects children, strengthens families, and helps individuals and families achieve self-sufficiency. New Hanover County is committed to keeping the community safe, healthy and secure. Learn more at

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