Are You Ready? 

Organizational Readiness for Implementing Best Practices in Child Welfare Data Infrastructure 

APPROACH

In 2020, Casey Family Program’s Child Welfare Data Leaders (CDWL) expressed interest in learning about child welfare jurisdictions’ approaches to capturing high-quality data for families coming to the attention of child welfare hotlines or helplines,[i] recommendations for collecting and analyzing longitudinal data,[ii] application of a community-level approach to measuring risk and resilience,[iii] and insight into what it might mean to apply a racial equity lens to child welfare data.[iv] (These topics, identified as being on the vanguard of system change-focused data infrastructure and use by the agency data leaders convened by Casey Family Programs, will be referred to collectively as “best practices” for convenience’s sake throughout this brief.) In response, independent consultants gathered data on each topic through four separate research projects, which culminated in highlighted best practices and recommendations for child welfare jurisdictions to consider. In early 2021, Spark Learning for Organizations LLC, with support from Casey Family Programs, invited representatives from public child welfare agencies across the United States to participate in interviews to discuss their jurisdiction’s organizational readiness to implement the identified best practices. These conversations covered both successful strategies and barriers to readiness. For more information about our methods, click the      icon.

 A research protocol was created and reviewed by an independent IRB (Advarra IRB), and the project was determined to be exempt based on the minimal risk level. The research team aimed to speak with representatives from 14-18 child welfare jurisdictions, with the goal to have a balance between agencies that were county-administered and state-administered, as well as state-level representatives in jurisdictions that were county-administered. This approach was chosen to understand when and how multiple levels of government could facilitate or create challenges to implementing best practices. Data from National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) and Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) were used to identify jurisdictions that represent a range of performance on key child welfare outcomes (e.g., entry rates, repeat maltreatment and permanency) to have representation from agencies in the process of performance improvement activities as well as those that had implemented approaches that may have supported comparative strength on these measures. 

 

A total of 14 jurisdictions participated in an interview with staff from Spark Learning for Organizations LLC and Magnolia Detroit Consulting, out of 23 agencies contacted (a 61 percent response rate). The semi-structured interview guide asked about successful strategies and barriers encountered for those jurisdictions that were currently implementing the practices, and elements perceived to be critical for successful implementation for those that had not already adopted these approaches. 

 

Audio from the interviews was recorded with permission, transcribed, and reviewed for accuracy. The research team developed a thematic codebook that integrated elements of organizational readiness with the Water of Systems Change framework. Transcripts were coded and analyzed using a process of coding consensus, co-occurrence, and comparison, with codes applied to excerpts using Dedoose v.8, a mixed-method coding software program.  

 

Interview participants were given the opportunity to review and confirm the accuracy of all comments to be included in the brief, both attributed and anonymous. Quotations appearing in this brief have been lightly edited to remove verbal disfluencies and enhance clarity. 

“We are piloting something right now, this specific moment it's called CFSA Connects and it addresses that…screens out calls or hotline requests that are not necessarily maltreatment related but they may be around other needs. Maybe concrete needs on like diapers or food bank or things of that sort…  So many times, when families are screened out and they may be a need to link or coordinate supports for them and the Community model, CFSA typically will ask a family if they are open and amenable to the idea of working with the Community partner, which is the Collaboratives and based on where they reside. They will make a referral to them to engage them for case management supports or other needs of the family may have at that time.”