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FAQs

Who operates the Data Center?

The Data Center is a partnership of state child welfare agencies, Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, the American Public Human Services Association, and the Center for Social Services Research, University of California at Berkeley. Core support for the Data Center comes from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Casey Family Programs.

What are the main benefits of joining the Data Center?

The Data Center provides child welfare agencies with the precision tools they need to examine the extent to which they achieve their intended outcomes, whether they receive the best return on their investments, and how they might allocate future funds toward a more cost-effective system. Our suite of analytic resources enables agencies to assess performance gaps and the investments required to close them. The result is knowledge that enables states to make informed decisions about future programming and investments, sparking a cycle of continuous quality improvement based on evidence.

What exactly does my state receive as a member of the Data Center?

Membership to the Data Center includes the following:

  • A state-of-the-art, longitudinal child welfare database: For each member state, the Data Center designs, builds, and provides a copy of a sophisticated, flexible, longitudinal database built from the state’s own administrative child welfare records. Member states receive semiannual updates of this database.
  • Access to the Multistate Foster Care Data Archive (FCDA) web tool: The FCDA web tool is an online portal to states’ longitudinal databases. The web tool is a high-powered, user-friendly, decision support instrument that enables a wide variety of users to answer critical questions about systemic trends and outcomes. It includes a comprehensive User Guide as well as Recipes—a blog designed to orient users to the concepts behind longitudinal analysis and guide them step-by-step through the kinds of analyses that the web tool can produce.
  • Technical assistance and educational opportunities: Data Center members receive five hours of general technical assistance on installation and use of the longitudinal database and web tool. Additionally, members enjoy access to a variety of web-based and in-person training opportunities provided throughout the year. These general trainings focus on using the FCDA web tool and developing sound analytic queries pertaining to outcomes for children in foster care. Other training opportunities can be negotiated on a case-by-case basis.
What information is available through the FCDA web tool?
  • The web tool permits analyses of admission, discharge, and caseload trends, as well as permanency outcomes such as length of stay in foster care, placement stability, and re-entry. Importantly, the web tool enables the user to examine these outcomes by subpopulation according to:
    • Place: Compare your state to other states, compare counties or regions within your state, and develop the capacity to compare contracted private service providers.
    • Time: Examine system trends over time by comparing the outcomes of successive entry cohorts.
    • Child and case characteristics: Compare outcomes for groups of children based on race/ethnicity, age, gender, and placement type, among other child and case related variables.
  • The web tool produces results of sophisticated statistical analyses and reports containing aggregate data, but it also enables the user to view the individual child records behind that summative output. The ability to retrieve data at the child level is especially helpful in identifying specific subpopulations of children who need special attention.
  • The Multistate portal of the web tool standardizes variables across states in order to enable apples to apples comparisons between them. In addition to contributing the data available on this platform, member states may elect to establish a state-specific portal that enables intrastate analyses of variables that may be customized according to state coding requirements.
  • For an additional fee, member states may also choose to develop a web tool portal that enables analysis of permanency outcomes at the contract provider level. This feature is especially useful for monitoring continuous quality improvement in states that employ privatized foster care services.
Do I need a background in statistics or computer programming to use the web tool?

No. The web tool is designed for a wide range of child welfare agency users, from administrators to research/quality assurance staff, supervisors to frontline workers. Users structure their queries by making simple selections from drop-down menus.  Results can be viewed on-line in HTML, downloaded to PDF, and exported to Microsoft Excel.

While it is simple to get data out of the web tool, it requires careful thought and a willingness to be very systematic in order to get the right data to answer the question that you have. Membership to the Data Center includes access to web tool training, educational opportunities, and technical assistance, all designed to help improve your facility with the web tool and maximize its usefulness.

Does the Data Center provide training on the FCDA web tool?

Yes. Once a state’s longitudinal database is complete and uploaded to the web tool, Data Center staff will coordinate a “web launch” for state agency staff. The web launch is an interactive tutorial that provides an overview of the FCDA web tool and its functions. Additional customized training for state staff may be negotiated on a case-by-case basis.

If the data come from my state’s own electronic archive, can’t my IT staff generate the same reports that the FCDA web tool produces?

The Data Center addresses a major obstacle common to many public child welfare agencies: collecting a massive amount of data, but not having the resources to extract that data in an interpretable and useful way. Many states currently struggle with electronic record keeping systems that enable the input of information, but are not well equipped to deliver actionable output.

The Data Center solves this problem by transforming a state’s electronic records into a flexible, accessible, longitudinal database, the careful programming of which is based on many years of development work by Chapin Hall researchers. While it may be technically feasible for state IT staff to use its own records to produce similar analyses and reports, sustaining the staff and infrastructure necessary to build, maintain, and use the required applications is extremely expensive. The Data Center provides the necessary tools at a much lower cost.

Additionally, locally developed applications do not enable state-to-state analyses. In contributing data to a multistate archive, members of the Data Center support a community of child welfare professionals that believe that heightened transparency will promote continuous quality improvement on a national scale.

How much does membership cost?

Membership to the Data Center costs $25,000 per year.

Are there outside funding sources that states could contact to assist with the membership fee?

Casey Family Programs has provided support to cover the cost of membership as part of its engagement with states.

Besides the annual fee, what else is involved in becoming a member?

The membership process begins when the Data Center sends the state a copy of its data sharing and services agreement. State officials review the agreement carefully and return completed documents to the Data Center. Upon receipt of the signed agreement, Data Center staff begin the process of receiving and auditing the state’s data and creating its longitudinal database.

What is the nature of the data sharing agreement? How does the Data Center preserve the confidentiality of my state’s electronic data?

By joining the Data Center, a state agrees to contribute its lomgitudinal database to the Multistate Foster Care Data Archive. In doing so, the state agrees to share its data in two main ways:

  1. Provide aggregate outcome data via the FCDA web tool: In uploading each member state’s longitudinal database to the web tool, the Data Center makes aggregate reports from all member states available to authorized web tool users. Access to the FCDA web tool is password protected. Each member state identifies an administrator who is responsible for identifying authorized users and assigning web tool login IDs and passwords to those individuals. Authorized users outside your state will not be able to access your state’s individual child-level records.
  2. Contribute to the Data Center’s ongoing Research and Development program: The FCDA is the oldest, multistate repository of longitudinal data on children in foster care. It contains decades of information on over 2 million children who have spent time in foster care nationwide. Member states, alone, account for approximately 70% of the current United States foster care population. Data Center researchers use this rich archive to conduct cutting-edge, scientific, child welfare research and to develop new analytic tools to support rigorous evaluation. These projects are designed to inform the field of child welfare in general and promote quality improvement on a national scale.
How do member states send their SACWIS and/or other child welfare information system data to the Data Center? How much IT time will it take and what will it cost?

States may send their electronic data via SFTP transfer to the Data Center’s secure server, or on a tape, CD, or DVD. To ensure confidentiality, the Data Center will not accept data by email. The only cost to the state is the cost of the state’s choice of transfer medium and the agency staff time involved in copying the data.

Will state agency staff be required to develop a mapping document for the Data Center that describes each element of the state’s transferred records?

No. The state sends the Data Center a “data drop” containing a set of agreed upon data elements from the state’s SACWIS/information system. Once that material is received, Data Center staff will process it to create the state’s longitudinal database. The state must identify a member of its program staff and IT staff to be points of contact for the Data Center should questions arise during data processing.

How long will the process take?

The Data Center typically allocates three months from the time of data receipt for the initial development of a state’s longitudinal files. That timeframe is, in part, contingent on timely access to state agency staff who can respond to questions related to data interpretation and/or make decisions about how we should address any data integrity issues that may be encountered. Initial development typically includes the following steps:

  • State transmits its electronic records to the Data Center.
  • Data Center staff develop programs to create a longitudinal database from the state’s records.
  • Data Center and state agency staff discuss data integrity issues, data interpretation, and decisions related to code mapping and final longitudinal files.
  • State reviews draft processing documentation, case records showing file development, and counts of children in care and entering care. At this point, adjustments to processing can be made to address any concerns/requests from the state regarding processing decisions.
  • Data Center finalizes the state’s longitudinal files, uploads those files to the FCDA web tool, and sends the state a text file of longitudinal database and associated documentation.
If my agency wants to analyze the data in our longitudinal database using the file directly (i.e., not via the web tool), will we need to purchase licenses for Oracle, SAS, or SPSS?

You will need statistical software of some kind to take full advantage of your longitudinal database, though the database could be analyzed using Microsoft Excel or ACCESS if it is not too large