Jason E. Miczek for the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Establishing systems that allow state child welfare and educational agencies to share critical data about children is no small task. A guide created with support from the Foundation, Roadmap for Foster Care and K-12 Data Linkages, outlines seven areas of collaboration critical to integrating data in ways that can truly improve the lives of vulnerable children.
Successful data linkages mean agencies are able to draw on all the publicly collected information to create a more complete picture of individual students in foster care, helping inform interventions that are more effective.
“Data sharing between foster care and educational agencies is good for kids — and it’s feasible,” says Cynthia Guy, the Foundation’s vice president for research, evaluation, evidence and data. “To make this happen in a way that best serves children and families, you need a strong commitment and willingness to engage at the top levels and in the trenches.”
The report is the product of a gathering of leaders and experts in creating high-quality linkages between state foster care and K-12 data convened in 2016 by the Data Quality Campaign and the Legal Center for Foster Care & Education. Casey supported the effort as part of a broader agenda to promote data-driven programming and policy reform and the development of data resources that are both cost effective and comprehensive.
Key ingredients for successful data sharing identified in the report:
- Shared vision: Agencies must share a vision that identifies the value of their work in the lives of students in foster care and in improving those children’s lives. The shared vision puts a human face on data and drives the design and use of the data systems to effectively support students in foster care.
- Roles and responsibilities: Clearly defined roles and responsibilities allow agencies to create a structure that can specify how each will support one another around data collection, reporting and use, as well as create accountability for data quality and security.
- Capacity: States need the structures and staff to sustain the data linkages over the long term and continue to meet people’s changing information needs. It is not a one-time effort.
- Identification and data matching: High-quality data linkages between agencies means the same student’s data can be found in different systems. Many students in foster care also belong to other special populations; it is important that the data-matching process includes this information.
- Data quality: Accurate, timely, trustworthy data are critical. High-quality data follows individual children over time and across the child welfare and educational agencies. Data must be accurate, timely, user friendly, useful, comparable and presented as part of a bigger picture.
- Data analysis, reporting and use: Data allow teachers, case managers, case workers, education leaders, researchers and other stakeholders to determine the academic progress of students in foster care as well as the performance of education systems.
- Privacy and Security: Data privacy and security should be multifaceted and transparent so all stakeholders understand how information is kept secure and comply with federal and state regulations.
The roadmap also includes several examples of places that have successfully tackled challenges to building and maintaining such systems. “There are jurisdictions ahead of the curve that have been doing this for a while because it was right way to serve kids,” Guy said.
Read the report