Child Welfare Information Systems

8/18/2015

Why can we track a package around the world, but we can’t keep track of our kids in foster care?

States use a variety of data collection and sharing systems to track child welfare information—how many children are entering and exiting foster care for example. But there are roadblocks along the way to obtaining complete, consistent and specific information about each child.

The line between purely serving data collection purposes and providing integrated service delivery to achieve improved decision making and data analysis is a meaningful one. States are charged with developing their own data collection systems to collect and store critical information on children and families to meet federal reporting requirements, but how is that data used within the state and across state agencies?

Creating a web-based, integrated case management system that allows the caseworker to see all of the relevant information when they need it is potentially the next step in state child welfare policy. Many states do not currently have an integrated case management system, instead, time and money is spent on data collection and reporting. Web-based case management systems have the potential to improve decision-making for children and families by allowing child welfare agencies to gather a more comprehensive set of information that can be seen in real time by various stakeholders and decision-makers.

All 50 states have a data collection and reporting system designed to meet federal reporting requirements. Most commonly, that system is the Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System (SACWIS.) Other states, Indiana for example, use updated and innovative new programs, such as Casebook, that provide real-time case management, in addition to meeting federal reporting requirements.

Check out Keeping Track, an article from State Legislatures Magazine on this issue as well as other data sharing systems being tested by states.

Below is a further discussion of the current SACWIS system, its strengths, weaknesses and limitations, and ways in which states are breaking the mold to create innovative case management and reporting systems.

Current System

Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System (SACWIS)

The Statewide and Tribal Automated Child Welfare Information Systems (SACWIS/TACWIS) is a federally funded data collection system. All states are required to collect and report particular information to the federal government. States have the option of creating a SACWIS model in order to comply with these federal reporting requirements or they may implement an alternative data collection model.

This information is then compiled into the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) and the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS). Both are then made publicly available on the Children’s Bureau’s Child Welfare Outcomes Report Data website.

Most states have elected to implement a SACWIS system, a few states are still developing a SACWIS system, while others have developed other non-SACWIS programs designed to perform similarly.

SACWIS (35)

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming

SACWIS in Development (4)

California, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi

Non-SACWIS Models (12)

Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia

 

Strengths, Challenges and Cross-System Issues

The following chart was excerpted from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Introduction to Cross-System Data Sources in Child Welfare, Alcohol and Other Drug Services, and Courts, 2011. It provides a look at the strengths and weaknesses of SACWIS as well as some of the cross-system data sharing issues that states must deal with.

Identified strengths of SACWIS include the ability to see large amounts of data about a child’s time in the child welfare system, from the initial maltreatment report to reunification or permanency. Some weaknesses include the inconsistency with which SACWIS systems are used across states and between different jurisdictions within the state. Front-line workers do not always get this information in a timely or efficient manner to assist the with making the most informed decisions for children and families.

Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System (SACWIS)

Sponsor

  • Children’s Bureau, Administration on Children, Youth and Families

Features

  • SACWIS is a comprehensive, automated case management system that helps social workers manage foster care and adoption cases.
  • SACWIS includes basic components that the Children’s Bureau mandates and optional elements that the Children’s Bureau encourages but does not require States to use.
  • All States and the District of Columbia collect data on their child welfare cases and activities for entry into a statewide automated system that provides reports for a variety of uses.
  • Twenty-three SACWIS certified systems are in operation, 17 SACWIS systems are in development, and 10 non-SACWIS models are in operation.

Federal Requirements and Support

  • Federal legislation enacted in 1993 supports States in planning, designing, developing, and implementing a SACWIS system.
  • Each SACWIS must support the reporting of data to AFCARS and NCANDS.
  • The Federal government reviews each State’s SACWIS system to ensure that the system supports child welfare practices throughout the State and complies with reporting guidelines. The review takes place approximately 1 year after the State implements the SACWIS system. Front-line workers, supervisors, managers, and other system users (such as quality assurance personnel and non-case carrying staff with advisory responsibilities) use SACWIS data.
  • When the review is complete, the State receives a summary report noting any areas that need improvement.

Data Elements

  • The Children’s Bureau requires States to include 66 data elements that are also part of the AFCARS system, including demographic information on the child’s race, age, gender, and date of entry into care.
  • The SACWIS includes case-related information, such as the reason identified for removing the child and placing him or her into foster care, service goals, funding source, number of placements, and availability for adoption.
  • States may include other data elements to meet their needs, including elements that help caseworkers manage their caseloads within the structure of the State child welfare system.
  • Because each State can include different data elements in its SACWIS, States collect varying amounts and types of information. States use their SACWIS data to create management and outcome reports, which the Children’s Bureau sometimes requires for use in monitoring performance improvement. Other reports are unique to each State to aid in their own performance-monitoring and improvement systems.

Strengths

  • The SACWIS provides a wealth of information about children and families and their progress through the child welfare system.
  • The SACWIS is a means for collecting, collating, and analyzing data regarding agency, local office, and individual worker performance.
  • Ideally, the SACWIS system gives anyone in the agency quick and easy access to all pertinent information about a child or family.

Challenges

  • State systems are in various stages of development and use.
  • Although standards are available for inclusion of specific information, each State or locality has the latitude to establish its own format and functionality.
  • The degree to which front-line workers and key supervisory or management personnel use a SACWIS can vary between States and jurisdictions within States. This variation can result in inaccurate data.
  • Although management personnel usually have access to specific outcome measures, they do not always have access to individual case data.
  • Because SACWISs are in varying stages of development and use, the longitudinal information on children and families in these systems is limited and unique to each State.

Cross-System Issues

  • Child welfare data have significant implications for multiple domains, including substance abuse, mental health, family court, and housing systems. The sharing of data across these systems has a great potential to enhance services to children and families in the child welfare system.
  • The ability to share information outside the State or local child welfare system is limited by strict confidentiality restrictions aimed at protecting the rights of children and families.
  • Efforts are underway to develop a format for sharing information between court systems and child welfare agencies, but progress in this area has been limited. Issues that impede progress include the use of multiple vendors and proprietary formats in the development of the data systems, the unique nature of each SACWIS, the different approaches and formats for gathering data across systems, and the highly sensitive nature of the data.
  • Because each State develops its own SACWIS, cross-system data sharing would require each State to develop a unique data-sharing system.
  • Because each State selects the vendor that develops its SACWIS, cross-system data sharing might require collaboration with multiple vendors and software developers.

 

New Systems and InnovationsCasebook for Mobile Devices

Since 1993, when the Department of Health and Human Services first created the current regulations for SACWIS, child welfare practice and technology, particularly information technology, have evolved tremendously. This rapid change in technology has created the need and desire for new ways of getting and responding to information.

On August 11, 2015, the Department of Health and Human Services issued the Comprehensive Child Welfare Information System (CCWIS) Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to address these changes in technology and provide agencies with increased flexibility to build smaller systems that more closely mirror their practice models. The new CCWIS regulations, when finalized, are expected to substantially alter the child welfare technology landscape, opening the door to innovation.  (Already, in June of 2013, guidance from the Department of Health and Human Services outlined for the first time a vital, expanded pathway for states to use federal funds to adopt modern, cloud-based and commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) solutions to support child welfare agencies.)

Interested parties may submit comments about the NPRM during the public comment period, which is open until October 13, 2015 at 11:59 p.m.   

As mentioned above, in response to advancement of information technology, some states are implementing new and innovative systems to capture data and support child welfare caseworkers. These alternative models are often designed to do much more than just collect and report data; they are also intended to provide real time case management information to assist caseworkers, educators and other child welfare workers make the most informed decisions for the children in their charge.

One state leading the way is Indiana, which is using Casebook.

Casebook screenshotCasebook is a web-based, mobile, program that allows caseworkers to see real-time information designed to help them make more evidence-informed decisions. It also allows policymakers and caseworkers to identify trends in child welfare policy in real-time, eliminating the necessity to rely on months-old data.

While SACWIS is designed to provide case specific information within the child welfare system, Casebook and other innovative models are designed to cut across program silos such as:

  • Child Welfare
  • Juvenile Justice
  • Health/Mental Health
  • TANF/Food Stamps
  • Homeless and Emergency Services
  • Medicaid

This cross-system information sharing is critical, particularly for children in foster care who face complex behavioral and mental heath care needs. The lack of records can have serious consequences, like an over-prescription of psychotropic medications or duplicate immunizations. Casebook provides key information on the child's progress, allowing the child welfare caseworker to make the most up-to-date decision regarding the child.

In addition to providing critical information specific to each child, Casebook also creates a comprehensive view of the child's contacts including family members and other members of the community.

Each of these systems has its own way of doing business, its own compliance standards and requirements, its own rule-making process and its own users. Casebook is designed to employ “common, web-based tools that multiple individuals spread across several agencies can share and use collaboratively.” With help from caseworkers, and with inspiration from social networking sites, Casebook best models a child welfare caseworker's unique workflow and need for flexibility.

Other examples of innovative programs include the Results Oriented Management (ROM) Reporting program, offered by the University of Kansas, School of Social Welfare, in partnership with Casey Family Programs and the National Electronic Interstate Compact Enterprise (NIECE) program which is currently in the pilot project phase.

Examples of ROMROM Reporting is a web-based management reporting system that uses existing SACWIS data to show performance trends over time. Twelve states are currently using ROM Reporting (Colorado, Connecticut, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon and Vermont) and, in addition to the 80 plus standard reports, are capable of customizing the reports they would like to have available. ROM provides up-to-date data on Child and Family Services Reviews (CFSRs) outcome measures as well as other performance measures for child protective services, foster care and in-home services. It can be used internally to compare regions and counties, as well as child characteristics such as age, race and abuse type, or externally to inform state and community stakeholders, such as legislators and judges.

One example of the public ROM Reporting program in action is Colorado’s public Community Performance Center. There, the public can search various outcomes for children in the state of Colorado and drill down to county level data. In addition to providing the public information, there is an internal management reporting site that allows the user to view case level specifics in order to analyze and improve outcomes and workforce management.

NIECE is a pilot project designed to support the administration of the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC). It is a web-based system that seeks to improve timely foster and adoptive placements through an electronic case processing system that allows jurisdictions to share information across state lines. Six states – Florida, Indiana, Nevada, South Carolina, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia – are testing the 17 month pilot project which launched in August of 2014.

 Legislative Takeaways

Questions for state legislators to ask/consider:

  • What outcomes do you want to see improved?
  • How can improved technology help achieve those outcomes?
  • Who are the partners that should be at the table?
  • What benefit would a new technology system provide to children and families?
  • What do you want out of a data-collection system?
    • More efficient day-to-day process for workers?
    • Compliance with federal reporting requirements?
    • Ensuring appropriate federal and state reimbursement?
    • Integrating multiple systems, such as child welfare, health, justice?
    • Collecting better data in order to make more informed laws and policies?
  • How much will a new data collection and reporting system cost?

 

Note: This project was supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, with input from Casebook and ROM.

About This NCSL Project

The Denver-based child welfare project staff focuses on state policy, tracking legislation and providing research and policy analysis, consultation, and technical assistance specifically geared to the legislative audience. Denver staff can be reached at (303) 364-7700 or childwelfare@ncsl.org.

NCSL staff in Washington, D.C. track and analyze federal legislation and policy and represent state legislatures on child welfare issues before Congress and the Administration. Staff in D.C. can be reached at (202) 624-5400 or cyf-info@ncsl.org.

Additional Resources