Administrative Data Quality Varies between Programs, Affects Use of Data

When a child or family comes into contact with human services and other social programs, a record of that interaction is created and maintained by the responsible agency. Linking together administrative data sources across programs (“record linkage”) is necessary for many analyses of programs and family well-being. However, the availability and quality of data on individual and family characteristics vary between programs, with implications for how data sources can be linked and used.

What We Did

We interviewed analysts and managers from four human services-focused integrated data systems. We also drew upon our own experience developing and maintaining the Integrated Database on Child and Family Programs in Illinois at Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.

What We Found

  • Record linkage in human services relies heavily on name, date of birth, and Social Security number (SSN).
  • The quality of these key record identifiers is often inconsistent both across and within data systems.
  • While the quality of address data from programs that send mail (e.g. child support) is generally good, this is likely to change as more states and localities transition to electronic payment systems.
  • Vital records are best at capturing relationships between biological parents and children.

What It Means

  • Human services datasets focus on specific populations with little known about the extent of overlap between systems, with limited identifiers, and with data quality variation. These characteristics increase the challenge of assessing the quality of record linkage in the human services.
  • Analysts attempting to link these datasets must understand the data sources that they are attempting to match in order to anticipate and address data quality issues. In some cases, linking multiple data sources can be used to help address limitations in the source data.
    Recommended Citation
    Wiegand, E. R. & Goerge R. M. (2019). Using and linking administrative datasets for family self-sufficiency research. Washington, DC: Family Self-Sufficiency and Stability Research Consortium.
Using and Linking Administrative Data