Lately, it seems like artificial intelligence (AI) is everywhere. Many people use it with positive goals in mind, but often they fail to see the far-reaching consequences of AI. One such sector is child welfare and family services. Several states have started using algorithmic models to help identify children at risk of abuse or neglect. Some think it's an important step forward, but others wonder if it discriminates against parents with disabilities.
Algorithms to Support Child Welfare Workers
A recent article for AP News told the story of the Hackneys, a family in Pittsburgh that had their 8-month-old daughter taken from them and put into foster care. Lauren and Andrew Hackney had struggled to get their baby girl to eat—babies can be fickle eaters, and they'd had to change formula due to the shortage in 2022. Their pediatrician advised them to take their daughter to the emergency room when she appeared to be malnourished and dehydrated. When Lauren and Andrew went to the ER with their daughter, hospital workers contacted child protective services.
Two weeks later, child welfare officials showed up at the rehab center where the Hackneys' daughter was recovering. They took custody of their 8-month-old girl right then and there.
AI Can Have Biases
Both Lauren and Andrew Hackney have developmental disabilities. They wonder if the algorithm that the Allegheny County Department of Human Services uses to predict and identify at-risk children worked against them because of it. These AI models evaluate a variety of factors and give children risk points on a scale of 0-20, with 20 being the most at-risk.
Some of the factors these models use include:
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments (which indicate individuals with disabilities)
- Poverty level
- Criminal history
- ZIP code
- Jail time
- Juvenile probation
- Health and birth records
In some jurisdictions, race and geographic location have been factored out so as not to discriminate. Other factors like SSI payments or mental health records, however, usually aren't factored out. As a result, these models can indicate parents with disabilities as riskier for children.
What to Do if Your Child Is Taken Away
Nobody wants to bear the pain of having their child taken away. If you've had any contact with government systems in the past, however, whether for juvenile offenses that were later expunged or Medicaid benefits, you may end up losing your child because an algorithm marks you as a risk.
If you live in Pennsylvania and have a story similar to the Hackneys', you should contact a family lawyer immediately. Regaining custody of your child won't be easy if you try to do it alone, especially if you don't have prior experience with child protective services. At the Lento Law Firm, Joseph D. Lento and our Family Law Team can help. We've assisted countless families across Pennsylvania, and we understand the pain you're going through. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 to see how we can help you.