The Center for State Foster Care and Adoption Data
Stakeholders across the board—government officials, the media, and the public—all want to know that public investments in child welfare services are achieving results. Timely performance data and flexible reporting have become critical for policy analysis, program planning, and assessment of outcomes.
To help state agencies monitor their foster programs effectively and evaluate how their expenditures translate into desired results, in 2004, Chapin Hall and the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA) established the Center for State Foster Care and Adoption Data. Currently, child welfare agencies from 15 states are members of the center.
When child welfare agencies join the center, they provide their foster care and adoption administrative records to Chapin Hall for inclusion in a multistate data repository. Chapin Hall organizes these case histories, comprising records of more than 1.5 million foster children, into a robust and flexible longitudinal database. A web-based tool developed by Chapin Hall allows child welfare administrators to access data and generate a variety of reports. Together, these resources support child welfare agencies in improving outcomes for the children and youth in their care.
“The center is a critical support for state child welfare agencies,” says Jerry Friedman, executive director of APHSA, “especially in these tough economic times. Agencies can use the center’s database and tools to track child outcomes, set performance goals and monitor progress, and link their financial decisions to outcome measures—all with minimal technical development costs.”
“The center serves three main purposes,” explains Fred Wulczyn, a Chapin Hall research fellow who cofounded the center and serves as its director. “First, we are creating a knowledge base for state agencies by maintaining a multistate database and developing the tools to analyze the data. Second, the basic and applied research emerging from our work is advancing our collective understanding of contemporary issues in the child welfare field. Finally, we are building capacity among child welfare professionals through workshops and technical assistance.”
Notable examples of work underway include a new study about placement disparity, research that examines placement stability, models that forecast foster care expenditures, models that project the demand for residential care, and models that forecast the number of youth aging out of foster care. In addition, the Center for State Foster Care and Adoption Data is working with APHSA on an initiative that is focused on helping states comply with the federal National Youth in Transition Database requirements. With support from Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, the center is promoting an extended database that builds on federal requirements. With the extended capacity, states will be in a better position to understand permanency for youth who were once in the foster care system.
Technical assistance and capacity building for state agencies are also fostered through the five-day Advanced Analytics for Child Welfare Administration course offered periodically by Chapin Hall through the center. The course is designed for mid-level child welfare managers who work directly with information resources.
Staff from member agencies also have opportunities to work together to analyze national trends using the center’s information technology tools and database. Through this professional community, they share best practices with peers and expert researchers in the field.
“The ultimate aim of the center is to help agency staff become critical consumers of their own administrative data,” says Wulczyn. “The role of Chapin Hall is to provide resources and knowledge, so agencies can design programs and stimulate innovation that will lead to measurable improvements in the lives of children and families.”
The Center for State Foster Care and Adoption Data is guided by an advisory group that includes state child welfare leaders and representatives from academic partners from the Jordan Institute for Families at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Center for Social Services Research of the University of California at Berkeley, and other research universities. Core funding for the center comes from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, state members, and through special project collaboration with organizations such as Casey Family Programs and Partners for Our Children.