From New Zealand to Pittsburgh, a Moneyball Approach to Helping Troubled Kids

In a program pioneered in New Zealand and arriving soon in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, social workers use data to figure out who’s most at risk.

Finance Minister Bill English speaks to media after delivering a Pre-Budget Speech at Parliament House on May 1, 2015 in Wellington, New Zealand.

Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

In the U.S. and the rest of the world, politicians looking to trim government spending have typically taken a simple approach to reforming social services: Cut them. In New Zealand, the ruling National Party pioneered a novel approach: Use data analytics to determine where spending can be most effective. In 2010, when Minister of Finance Bill English first convened a policy group to review welfare spending, government statistics showed half the 4,300 teenage single mothers receiving benefits in that country were likely to remain in the welfare system for 20 years, at a total cost of about $264,000 each. The government responded with $23 million to assign individual case workers to help teenage mothers finish school and find work. Now, after four years, the number of teenage single parents on benefits has dropped to 2,600.

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