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 User Guide. I’ve pulled out some of the main concepts and summarized them here:
- A spell is a period of time that a child spends in foster care. It starts when the child enters care and ends when a child exits care. A child can have multiple spells—this is the case when a child re-enters care after discharge.
- A spell is made up of events—placements into or exits from foster care placements.
- The censor date is the calendar day as of which the data archive is updated. A child’s experience in foster care can only be observed as of the censor date.
- When a child placed in foster care is still in care as of the censor date, the child’s placement history is incomplete because information about his or her date of exit from care is unknown. In this situation, we say that the child’s spell is censored.
Currently, the web tool enables you to examine a number of permanency outcomes for children in foster care and to analyze those outcomes for various subgroups of the population. (Read the User Guide to learn exactly which variables the web tool will allow you to access.) However, it’s important to note that through our other services, the Data Center can help you explore analyses well beyond these parameters. Depending on the types of information that your state submits to the Data Center, we can help you investigate a wide range of questions with a wide range of complexity. And, on top of that, we are always looking for ways to make the web tool, itself, more helpful. User feedback is essential to that process, so we encourage you to send us your comments. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know the analytic questions that are most important to you.
Because Recipes is aimed at a broad audience, I’ll be using these first few posts to review the fundamental concepts behind longitudinal data analysis and the role that longitudinal data play in the context of continuous quality improvement in child welfare. Following that, I’ll dive into actual step-by-step procedures for how to conduct analyses using the web tool. Keep reading to learn more…