Improving Child and Family Services Through Integrated Data Systems

Posted April 25, 2017, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Public agencies often operate in silos, lacking critical information about the full spectrum of services and risks that are shaping the lives of children and families. Enter integrated data systems, an information tool which a growing number of leaders are leveraging to enhance coordination across a wide range of social programs that have a shared stake in supporting families.

By connecting regular public agency records, integrated data systems enable policymakers, practitioners, advocates and researchers to look across programs and add critical depth and details to complex social issues. For example: integrated data systems can help users better understand ripple effects, such as how foster care placement decisions affect student performance and how parental incarceration affects multiple generations within a family.

For more on this cost-effective and versatile information tool, see the list below, which highlights key resources, research and real-world examples of integrated data systems in action.

About Integrated Data Systems

Connecting the Dots, a white paper by social policy experts Dennis Culhane and John Fantuzzo, is the first and most concise description of the value of integrated data systems for policymakers. The document also outlines the major legal, ethical, technical and economic challenges that leaders face developing these systems.

Connecting People and Place, a Casey-funded initiative by the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership, explores the use of integrated data systems in six cities to address chronic absence in schools, improve civic engagement and examine how youth are faring after aging out of foster care. The 2016 report, Using Integrated Data to Improve Communities, summarizes the initiative’s findings.

Proceedings from the Public-Academic Research Colloquium, convened by the University of Pennsylvania and other national and international partners, highlights the work of organizations that have successfully used integrated administrative data for social policy research.

Videos About Integrated Data Systems

The Annie E. Casey Foundation: Introducing Integrated Data Systems

Children’s Data Network: What is Linked Administrative Data and Why is It Important?

University of Pennsylvania: Understanding Actionable Intelligence for Social Policy

Virginia Longitudinal Data System: What is VLDS?

Economic and Social Research Council: Linking and Protecting Government Data for Social Research

Administrative Data Research Network: Protecting Privacy

Research and Implementation Partners

Actionable Intelligence for Social Policy (AISP), a University of Pennsylvania-based initiative, focuses on the development, use and innovation of integrated data systems for policy analysis and program reform. Its growing network includes cities, counties and states nationwide.

National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP), a collaboration between the Urban Institute and partners in 30 cities, aims to develop and use neighborhood-level information systems for community building and local decision-making. Its resource page lists publications and activities from a number of efforts undertaken by these partners over the last few years.

Data Quality Campaign (DQC), the nation’s leading authority on education data policy, advocates for developing state education data systems, including forging cross-state connections that are crucial for supporting students.

Case Studies

The brief "Using Integrated Data Systems to Improve Child Welfare Outcomes" tells how two states are using integrated data systems to create and sustain policies that help reduce the reunification timeline for children in foster care and their parents.

The brief "Using Integrated Data Systems to Improve Case Management and Develop Predictive Modeling Tools" examines how several counties and states are sharing integrated data systems information about specific clients with program staff to improve frontline decision making.

The brief "Integrated Data are Key to 'Pay for Success'" describes how one county has used integrated data systems to develop an innovative pay-for-success program to serve a particularly vulnerable population: homeless mothers who have children in the child welfare system.

The brief "Using Integrated Data Systems to Strengthen Collective Impact in Out-of-School Programs" tells how nonprofits managing after-school programs in two sites are using integrated data systems to address chronic absenteeism and improve academic performance.

The article "Getting Big Data to the Good Guys" examines how using integrated data systems changed San Francisco’s approach to intervening with at-risk youth and helped define the path that young people took through the city’s social safety net.

The blog post "Supporting Students in Foster Care," authored by a senior staff attorney at the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law, explores how integrated data systems can be used to improve the frustratingly low academic achievement of students in foster care. A corresponding fact sheet, from the Data Quality Campaign, reports on the number of states that securely link public school data systems with foster care data systems to help address this issue.

The Atlantic article, "How a House Can Shape a Child’s Future," shows how Case Western University linked multiple sources of administrative data in one county to better understand how housing instability and quality can impact school readiness. The Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development also released a final report that covers this research in detail.

Building the Tool

Four AISP innovation expert panel reports detail innovative solutions to common challenges with integrated data systems related to governance, legal issues, technology and security, and data standards.

Integrated Data Systems and Student Privacy, a report released by the U.S. Department of Education’s Privacy and Technical Assistance Center, tells how organizations can create integrated data systems that include student education records and are compliant with federal privacy law (particularly the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, known as FERPA).

Testimony to the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking, delivered in January 2017, includes discussions on models for acquiring, linking and using data for research, examples of state innovations, and the National Vital Statistics System. The Casey Foundation’s Cindy Guy also submitted testimony to the commission on the benefit of integrated data systems in meeting the needs of communities of color.

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