Wednesday, 10 August 2016

The race for predictive modelling

I was intrigued by the Express article: Revealed: New Zealand abandoned Girfec-like scheme after branding it `useless` because I wanted to know how the New Zealand scheme was put to rest. I read that:
"Officials pulled the plug on the predictive risk modelling plans when experts said it did nothing to address the causes of child abuse but gave authorities an excuse for inaction."
"The country’s Ministry for Social Development abandoned a pilot to trial the model, created using multi-agency shared data based on 132 variables from socio-economic status to the background of the carers, amid concerns the method was ethically questionable and breached privacy."
"Even UNICEF expressed concerns over the plans to rate every newborn child with a risk score to predict future abuse for officials to keep an eye on..."
Certainly there were similarities to the Scottish Named Person scheme with its potential privacy breaches, many wellbeing variables and hundreds of risk indicators. The idea of agencies stepping in early before a crisis develops would have had to have involved some kind of predictive risk modelling. Only the word more often used in Scotland is `prevention`.

Then I discovered that the New Zealand scheme was not designed for every child and `risk scores` were to be determined for children of benefit claimants.
"In 2011, a Green Paper commissioned by then Social Development Minister Paula Bennett... estimated that 15% of New Zealand children, or about 163,000 could be classified as being ’ vulnerable’ at any one time."
"However, as the NZ Herald reported a year later, the focus narrowed significantly in the subsequent White Paper, onto a far smaller group of welfare recipients."
"The concentration of data sharing and statistical predictive tools then began in earnest: "
"The White Paper, written by a team in the Ministry of Social Development [without consulting outside experts] is much more prescriptive, but for a much smaller group. It proposes: a national `Vulnerable Kids Information System`, cutely shortened to `Viki`, that will be `a mechanism for extracting and combining information on children (and their caregivers) from existing databases` once a child reaches a `threshold of concern`. Professionals across the sectors `will be able to both view information about these children and enter information about them" …. "
So the New Zealand scheme was set up to target `vulnerable` children on welfare. But the proposal was more obscene than that.
"A proposed observational study that would see if children assessed as at-risk went on to be abused has been blocked by Social Development Minister Anne Tolley - who said infants would not be treated as `lab rats` under her watch..."
"However, documents show that ethical approval was sought for another observational study which would have seen a group of 60,000 newborns assessed for risk using the tool, and then seeing if those deemed high-risk went on to suffer abuse."
"Ethics approval was going to be sought for the study, but it was immediately halted by a furious Ms Tolley, who wrote in the margins of a document outlining the proposal: `not on my watch, these are children not lab rats`."
In New Zealand, testing of the predictive modelling tool would now be done with historical data.

Setting aside the issue of confidentiality, I wonder how many people realise how important the recent UK Supreme Court judgment is for the children of Scotland.

Without it, they would have been the children`s `laboratory rats` of the world. 


  1. You know how long I've been involved with all this stuff Alice and to be honest the importance of the SC judgement is still sinking in with me...

    This link is a couple of years old but reveals a lot of detail about the "lab", its participants and some of the sums involved:

    Thanks (again) for all you're doing and hope the well run NO2NP campaign is resulting in people visiting your blog for some detailed background.

  2. The NO2NP campaign has kick started a lot of discussion about the Named Person scheme. I hope they keep the conversation going because the forces operating in the background who want the data in order to better manage us all are not going to go away.