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TACC Teams Up with Children's Optimal Health to Improve Child Welfare

Published on October, 26, 2017 by Faith Singer-Villalobos

This map shows where the rates of substantiated reports of child maltreatment have gone down, stayed about the same, or have increased from before the recession to after the recession within the study period. This map looks at children 0 to 4 years. Credit: Dr. Amanda Barczyk and Dr. Karla Lawson, Dell Children's Trauma and Injury Research Center.

The Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) at The University of Texas at Austin has teamed up with Austin, Texas-based non-profit Children's Optimal Health (COH) to provide the technical infrastructure needed to help solve issues in children's health and education throughout Central Texas, including disease, mental health and adverse childhood experiences.

"COH is an amazing organization focused on the admirable goal of enabling communities to better protect and promote the health of children through data," said Dan Stanzione, executive director of TACC. "We increasingly see where advanced computing technologies can play a huge role in helping address problems of immediate societal need."

Maureen Britton, President and Executive Director, Children's Optimal Health
"In this case, COH is combining disparate sources of data with geospatial mapping technologies – and facing technical challenges around scale, capacity, and sustainable infrastructure – exactly where we can help. We are very proud that we can use our expertise and systems to support the mission of COH, and help them in their important work," Stanzione said.

Geographic Information Systems, or GIS, is a method used to capture, analyze and present spatial or geographic data in a map format. COH uses this method, along with related spatial analysis methods, to understand changes in a community's landscape, including the delivery and use of health care and educational services.

"COH partners across government, health care, education, and business to provide a neutral look at the realities in Central Texas and identify potential solutions," said Maureen Britton, COH president and executive director. "As visual images, maps overcome language barriers and offer a powerful communication tool. By working with local data providers, the methods used by Children's Optimal Health have taken this tool to a new and exciting level of granularity that brings value to our community. The more we bring this data to life through the maps, the more we get data driven information to the right people."

TACC is providing COH with HIPAA and FERPA secure general cloud computing and storage, and a virtual machine environment. "It's everything they need to perform their preferred visual and statistical analyses," said Chris Jordan, manager of data management and collections at TACC. "And it's set up in a way that's secure and can be accessed from anywhere."

Collaborating with TACC has tremendous potential for Children's Optimal Health, according to Susan Millea, community systems and population health analyst. "Not only does TACC provide an analysis platform and a place to have our data securely stored, but TACC has many other advantages, including staff expertise, and new forms of visualization. In addition, TACC is affiliated with the Dell Medical School—that's the most exciting part."

COH formed in 2008 after several organizations began observing that rapid growth in Central Texas was outpacing the capacity to provide needed services where people were residing. Texas leads the nation in the growth of the child population, and central Texas is leading the state. New neighborhoods are forming and growth is occurring in areas that have been traditionally rural. The infrastructure to provide services such as education, access to health care, social services, and public transportation is not well developed in these areas of rapid growth.

"Not only does TACC provide an analysis platform and a place to have our data securely stored, but TACC has many other advantages, including staff expertise, and new forms of visualization. In addition, TACC is affiliated with the Dell Medical School—that's the most exciting part."
Susan Millea, Community Systems and Population Health Analyst
Over the last four to five years, the medical industry has realized that the single biggest factor in predicting a person's health is their zip code—it's even more important than their genetic code. "This epiphany that place matters speaks to the importance of population health," Millea said.

"To be effective, services need to be culturally sensitive, requiring us to better understand our community at the neighborhood level," she said. "This applies everywhere, but rapid growth within Latino and Spanish language-dominant neighborhoods emphasized the need for culturally competent services in those communities. Neighborhood level maps help us understand assets and needs within the local cultural context, and provide insight to guide decisions to effectively and efficiently target resources."

COH gathers data from organizations such as school districts, hospitals, insurance companies, police departments, businesses, public transit and housing authorities. The organization combines disparate data about individuals and the community and analyzes it in a broad way. They use GIS analysis to visualize the data so that it is understandable for communities to help solve issues, support policy decisions and monitor change over time.

Recently, COH completed a project with Dell Children's Medical Center addressing patterns of child maltreatment before and after the recession. For this project, the non-profit used GIS tools to understand population migration to areas beyond of the city of Austin, the related reduced access to services in those outlying areas, and changes in patterns of substantiated child maltreatment. "Understanding these geographic patterns and ensuring access to essential services close to where people live can reduce family isolation and stressors, and help prevent child abuse and neglect," Millea said.

COH also partners with the E3 Alliance, a regional, data-driven education collaborative focused on building the strongest educational pipeline in the country, and area school districts to complete studies on issues such as early child development, obesity, physical fitness, child vehicular safety, and school readiness.



Faith Singer-Villalobos

Communications Manager | 512-232-5771

Aaron Dubrow

Science And Technology Writer

Jorge Salazar

Technical Writer/Editor | 512-475-9411