Data+ Awards: Florida youth welfare agency pinpoints aid with BI

Pinellas County agency gives more assistance with fewer dollars.

Five years ago, the Pinellas County Juvenile Welfare Board (JWB) was facing a budget shortfall. A meltdown in real estate values had diminished the property tax revenue that the Clearwater, Fla.-based agency depends upon for funding. So the JWB developed a BI initiative to assess the value of each program it offers.

"The downturn in the economy was catastrophic to our budget. We needed to know the best use of our money," explains Michael Warner, the JWB's lead technology analyst.

The JWB selected Roambi's business intelligence tool, in large part for its ability to provide a user-friendly BI and reporting layer that would encourage nontechnical JWB staffers to use it, says Warner.

Data from community programs that the board funds is put into the JWB database, as is data from outside sources such as the juvenile justice system, census records, street maps and school records. Because most of that data was already entered into the JWB's systems, integration wasn't a major challenge.

In fact, the biggest challenge was narrowing down the list of metrics and parameters to track, says Warner. Each review and trial of the system spurred the JWB staffers to think of more things they wanted to know, so questions began to multiply.

"Our questions kept changing," he notes. "Using BI can be very transformative."

Among other things, that process led to the development of an index to measure program successes vis-a-vis various factors that put children at risk for dropping out of school. One metric that's tracked is the number of children who can't read at or near a third-grade level by third grade, because reading level at an early age has been found to correlate with the likelihood of incarceration later in life, says Warner.

To make it easier for nontechnical JWB professionals to use the system and understand the data and trends, a visual analysis tool from SpatialKey was added. With it, users can, for example, create heat maps that highlight populations of high-risk kids and identify possible contributing factors, such as distance from recreational facilities.

"Now we're using the data to paint an incredibly accurate picture of at-risk children and families in Pinellas County," says Ben Kirby, communications manager for the JWB. "This allows the board to make informed decisions."

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Hildreth is a veteran IT writer based in Waltham, Mass. She covers enterprise technologies, from BI and CRM to social media and IT management.

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