Policy & Practice | October 2021

from the eld By Amy Malen

Hello Baby: Using Data and Proactive Outreach to Assist Babies and Their Families

E fforts to support families with newborns are plagued by a familiar problem in social services: the people who most need the help rarely ask for it. The Allegheny County, PA Department of Human Services (DHS) has combined its service, outreach, and data resources to create an innovative response to this problem. In September 2020, DHS launched Hello Baby, a voluntary program designed to connect families and their babies to the best available supports and thereby improve child outcomes, safety, and security. Hello Baby is a collaborative partnership between DHS, the Allegheny County Health Department, and several com- munity partners, including Healthy Start, Family Centers, United Way 2-1-1, and others. Allegheny County has a rich array of supports for families. But because engaging families is challenging, many have never participated in preven- tive community services or received even light-touch interventions. The programs designed to serve families with the most complex needs tend to end up attracting less needy families instead. For example, prior to the implementation of Hello Baby, only 27 percent of children enrolled in Allegheny County’s home visiting programs were classified as having high or complex needs. Hello Baby was driven by awareness that in child welfare, if you wait for the first crisis before intervening, it’s often too late. In half of all Allegheny County cases involving a child’s death or serious injury due to abuse or neglect, there was no referral or

ensures that uninterested families will not be contacted. Hospital staff can refer high-need families identified around the time of delivery and DHS uses a predictive risk model (PRM) to select families for proactive outreach. The PRM draws on data from birth records, protec- tive services, homeless services, the justice system, and others to estimate each family’s likelihood of a serious adverse child outcome by the child’s third birthday.

request for assistance before the tragic incident occurred. To better connect families to the services that best meet their needs, Hello Baby has implemented a tiered strategy with both broad and targeted forms of outreach. Every parent delivering a newborn in an Allegheny County hospital receives a Hello Baby gift bag with program information. In addition, using birth record data, DHS sends a postcard to each family a few weeks after delivery, reminding them of the program and the resources available. An opt-out option

See Hello Baby on page 25

Photo via Shutterstock


Policy&Practice October 2021

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