The best data analyses start with well-formed analytic questions. Therefore, before you set out to study your system’s administrative data—whether you are doing so with the Data Center’s web tool, your state’s complete longitudinal file, or any other dataset—it is important to spend time at the front end making sure that you’ve identified exactly what it is you want to know. What is your question? Which group of children will you need to examine in order to answer it? And what type of data will get you the answer that you are looking for? Longitudinal analyses of foster care data center around two main components—the likelihood of events and the speed with which they happen. In other words, good longitudinal inquiries are always variations on the same two-pronged theme: What happens to children who enter foster care (the likelihood of events), and how long does it take for children to… Read more >
What is longitudinal data, and why do we need it?
In recent years, the child welfare community has focused attention on the role of longitudinal data analysis. But what are longitudinal data, exactly? Why is the FCDA built on a longitudinal model? And why is longitudinal data analysis the most accurate way to evaluate the experience of children moving through foster care? At its core, the driving concept behind longitudinal analysis is a simple one: Longitudinal analysis examines change in particular individuals or entities over time. In a child welfare context, this means tracking the experiences of children as they move through the foster care system and interpreting the patterns that are found. Longitudinal analysis provides a way to talk about what happens to children in foster care (e.g., How long do children stay in care? How likely is it that they will re-enter after they exit?) and a way to talk about the extent to which foster care systems… Read more >
Key FCDA concepts
The FCDA contains case record information on over 2 million children who have spent time in foster care. It includes dates of events, placement types, demographic data, county characteristics—just a huge amount of information. Because all states manage their electronic data differently, when we at the Data Center receive data from a member state, we have to organize that material systematically so that information from all member states can be analyzed in the same way, according to the same rules. Therefore, to make maximum use of the FCDA web tool, you’ll need to get familiar with the way in which the FCDA organizes data. Here at the Data Center, we call this “thinking inside the box”—the FCDA has a certain structure, and once you’re inside it, you can use the elements of that structure to conduct powerful analyses. The structural components of the FCDA are explained in detail in the… Read more >