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Each year, federal, state, and local child welfare agencies spend approximately $26 billion to promote the well-being of vulnerable children and their families. That’s a serious commitment. What are we achieving with those investments? And how can we direct our resources in the future to do better?

It used to be that, as a field, child welfare just didn’t collect the information needed to answer those questions. But that’s not true anymore. The days of saying “we just don’t have the data” are over. We do have the data. And at the Data Center, we’re using it. We’re using it to develop mission-critical knowledge about children, families, communities, and agencies, and we’re putting that knowledge into the hands of system leaders so that they can make policy and practice decisions informed by the facts.

In child welfare, improving outcomes is about making smart investments. It’s about knowing what our systems are accomplishing today, setting goals for the future, implementing strategies for getting there, measuring the impact of our actions, and letting the results direct us as to how to spend the next dollar wisely. That’s strategic planning, and it’s more than just an initiative — it’s a philosophy of doing business that has to be at child welfare’s core.

The for-profit sector has always understood the importance of valuation — teasing out the opportunities that produce the best results, identifying programs that can be strengthened, and knowing when to discontinue efforts that aren’t worth the cost. It’s time to bring that type of thinking to child welfare. Time to use all the knowledge we can get our hands on to make our agencies precise, nimble, efficient, and productive. The children and families with whom we work deserve no less.