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Indigenous groups use data to save lives
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Indigenous groups use data to save lives 

The testimonies provided by relatives of those that are missing or dead during the public hearing differ from one another. But abuse, addiction, poverty, and welfare come up time and again.

The exact number of Indigenous women, girls, as well as two-spirit people that have gone missing or have been murdered in Canada over the past 30 to 40 years, is in dispute. Some estimates put the number at 500. There are statistics which say it could be 1,100. Numbers, data – they’re part of the problem and they could be part of the solution as well.

This summer in Ottawa, First Nations chiefs from all over the country, and representatives from data analytics software maker SAS; technology company, BlackBerry; along with officials from data quality and professional service firm, Forest Green met to discuss the crisis. They also talked about how data analytics can be used to prevent violence and improve health outcomes in Indigenous communities.

The Indigenous Controlled Technology Forum in Ottawa brought together Indigenous leaders such as Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day, Grand Chief Joseph Tokwiro Norton, Mohawk Council of Kahnawá:ke, Chief Byron Louis, Okanagan Indian Band, and John Paul, Executive Director Atlantic Policy Congress First Nations Chiefs Secretariat.

Indigenous-led initiative

Greg Henderson from SAS Canada, JP Beaupre from BlackBerry, and Murray Rowe Jr. from Forrest Green discussed how data and analytics can help Indigenous communities not only address addressing the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women but also a host of other matters.

In an interview with IT in Canada, Rowe made it clear that the aim of the project was not to solve crimes that have occurred “but to prevent future ones from happening.” He also emphasized that this was not your typical bureaucrat-led IT project.

“The end goal is to build an Indigenous-led initiative with a common technology infrastructure which they can all share and which will allow them to tackle problems from a lower cost – call it shared service if you will,” Henderson pointed out. “…This is designed as another tool the communities can use to better inform caseworkers. It can be used for other issues such as child abuse, neglect, criminal justice, and other social programs.”

Data for Good

SAS called it Data for Good. A movement which fosters the use of information in meaningful ways to solve humanitarian issues around poverty, health, human rights, education and the environment.

The system envisioned for Canada’s Indigenous communities will have three main components, according to Henderson – data integration, analytics, and the operational piece.

The idea is to integrate data from case management systems with data from other sources such as social benefits, education, healthcare, law enforcement, and criminal justice systems.

SAS will work with Blackberry, Forest Green and other technology partners to securely apply advanced analytics to spot trends, uncover patterns and identify key relationships.

The aim is to build a community-run, data collection and management systems. This system will also have emergency notification and crisis communication features.

Speeding up intervention

The system will enable families to securely share sensitive records with law enforcement agencies, caseworkers, and healthcare providers.

The key is to be able to identify high-risk situations faster so that caseworkers can intervene sooner and that more lives could be saved, according to Rowe of Forest Green. His technology services company has been working with Indigenous communities and helping their businesses grow.

He said case overload is a common problem for outreach programs.

“Do you know how long a social worker lasts in his or her work on average,” Murray asks. “Eighteen months, because by that time the caseload just becomes too heavy that they just can’t focus their efforts.”

Problems are coming at them from all sides. But what if there was a system that could help caseworkers accurately identify the families or individuals that needed immediate or more concentrated attention and assistance?

SAS has been involved in something like this before in Florida, which was at that time dealing with an escalating number of child murders.

SAS analyzed nearly six years of data on children that had some contact with the Florida Department of Children and Families, according to Henderson.

The SAS analysis considered factors such as prior removals because of sexual abuse or drug abuse, as well as physical or mental disabilities.

To this day, the resulting five-year Child Fatality Trend Analysis is helping investigators better predict the needs of families in crisis.

Some of the key findings were:

  • Children who experienced prior removal due to physical abuse were 14 times more likely to die.
  • Children who experienced prior removal due to parental drug or alcohol abuse were 15 times more likely to die.

“There were several factors responsible for reducing the risk of a child being murdered,” said Henderson. “But our analysis showed that caseworker visits cut the likelihood of a child being killed by 90 per cent.”

Since the project, overall child deaths within the agency have been on a downward trend.

Henderson believes a data analytics-system similar to this could be used to help Indigenous communities in Canada.

Filing the data gap

During the Indigenous Controlled Technology Forum, Ontario Regional Chief Day noted a lack of tracking of the social safety nets and medical services that Indigenous communities need.

“That’s a big gap. And if we can fill that gap, if we can design systems, work with partners and other jurisdictions — government and industry — then I think we’ll do a much better job at saving lives,” he was quoted as saying by the CBC.

“We have information, we have the wherewithal, the technology, now we’re seeing that we have many partners saying the same thing: let’s build an information management system where First Nations have control, we’re working with other jurisdictions to make sure that we have a better quality of life for First Nations children,” Day said.

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