The Center for State Child Welfare Data

Improving research evidence use in child welfare

A growing body of research suggests that child welfare agencies that use research evidence to inform policy and practice achieve improved outcomes for children and families. To increase the use of research evidence, child welfare agencies need to:

Create opportunity: provide staff with access to actionable evidence about system performance.

Build capacity: develop staff’s ability to generate, interpret, and apply evidence to the process of improvement

Increase motivation: foster a culture of evidence use and demonstrate the value of evidence in terms of targeted decisions and improved outcomes.

Established in 2004, The Center for State Child Welfare Data – or the Data Center–supports states in these three critical efforts. Through research and technical assistance activities, and in partnership with public and private child welfare agencies, the Data Center has supported systems in more than 30 states to make evidence-based decisions designed to improve outcomes for children and families.

The process of improving outcomes starts by asking mission-critical questions about system performance. One example is child welfare systems’ mission to keep children in foster care for as little time as possible. Those systems have to know: How long do children typically stay in foster care? Do some children stay in care longer than others? Has length of stay in care changed over time? How effective are our efforts to reduce duration in foster care?

The Data Center works with child welfare agencies to nail down essential performance questions and then uses state-of-the-art analyses and best practices in performance measurement to ensure that the answers to those questions are accurate, representative, and free of bias. To that end, the Data Center:

Uses agencies’ own administrative data to create databases that support relevant analyses.

Provides analytic tools and templates for answering those questions. Chief among these is the FCDA web tool—an online tool that agencies can use to answer their own questions about system performance. Another example is the Major Outcomes Report, a tool that enables systems to identify opportunities for improvement by demonstrating how outcomes vary within the system.

Provides technical support to agencies to synthesize evidence about system performance, push that evidence out to relevant stakeholders, and use that evidence to guide improvement.

The Data Center also helps child welfare staff build evidence-use skills. Trainings offered by the Data Center range from the technical to the applied, offering skill development in data analysis, reporting, and the application of evidence to the process of improvement.

Finally, the Data Center pursues a rich research program devoted to the effects of child welfare policy and research evidence use among child welfare agencies. Foundation- and government-supported research has included using technology for assessing young people’s mental health, adolescents leaving care to permanency, understanding complexity in the foster care system and research evidence use by child welfare agencies.

Dr. Fred Wulczyn is the Founder and Director of the Center for State Child Welfare Data. For more information, please visit the FCDA website or contact us at analytics@chapinhall.org.