Recap: Advanced Analytics for Child Welfare Administration
Last month, nineteen child welfare professionals from sixteen states came together for a week of learning at the Center for State Child Welfare Data’s 14th national Advanced Analytics for Child Welfare Administration course in Chicago, sponsored by Casey Family Programs. Like those before it, the class focused on the critical role of best practice measurement in the process of Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI).
Center Director Fred Wulczyn, opened the class with comments about the state of analytics in our field and the need for rigor in tackling the complexity and uncertainty inherent to the work of child welfare systems. He set the stage for the week by discussing one of the major principles underlying Advanced Analytics—that child welfare professionals must have a shared language for talking about disciplined inquiry and the meaning of its results if we are to truly use evidence to improve outcomes for those we serve. Zeinab Chahine from Casey Family Programs elaborated on this theme in her address, which focused on her experience using advanced analytics to drive change in New York City’s child welfare system.
The remainder of the week was devoted to best practices in administrative data analysis and the application of those techniques to policy and practice decision making. Working with data from the Multistate Foster Care Data Archive, students learned skills for converting longitudinal administrative data to field-relevant evidence. Through in-class activities and homework assignments, they applied analytic concepts and methods to real-world examples pertaining to permanency, program evaluation, monitoring service providers, and more. Participants practiced with techniques for articulating analytic questions, identifying analyses that answer those questions, and specifying periods for measuring change over time. Students also came face-to-face with analytic pitfalls that can derail the CQI process. As one participant commented, “I was struck by how often—unconsciously and unknowingly—I was sharing incomplete or misleading data with decision makers.”
Perhaps the most important aspect of the week was the numerous opportunities for reflection and application to participants’ specific work at their own agencies. Assignments, in-class discussion, and one-on-one office hours with instructors afforded attendees the chance to process their new knowledge and skills in the context of their unique professional experiences and challenges. In this way, students walked away from Advanced Analytics with immediately relevant information on how to improve the use of administrative data back home. One student noted that the course gave her “the language to reset strategies” underway in her jurisdiction. Another said that understanding “what [information] should really be used to drive improvement was the most operationally-valuable takeaway.”
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