Assessing the Field of Post-Adoption Services: Family Needs, Program Models, and Evaluation Issues. Analysis of Secondary Data. 4.2 Data System Issues

11/01/2002

Confidentiality concerns, incompatible data systems, and incomplete data limit analysis.

Adoption data are highly confidential and fragmented. Data about foster care histories and foster care payment amounts, adoption home studies (or their electronic summaries), adoption subsidy amounts, payments for special services (i.e., vendor payments), and disruptions, dissolutions, or displacements are often collected and stored in unrelated data systems, if at all. Record matching is often required because common identifiers do not exist. The importance of confidentiality around adoption issues impeded efforts to link the data in different files. Adopted children in North Carolina can have as many as three identification numbers in the data, making it problematic to link data between data files. Inconsistencies in the assignment of ID numbers across counties can further complicate the use of these data to estimate dissolutions.

Data on adoption assistance in North Carolina provide a clear estimate of the payment amount and length of time that children receive cash subsidy payments. The picture of vendor payments is less clear because the overall summary data maintain year-to-date estimates rather than career estimates of payments for each child. No reasons for subsidy changes or vendor payments are included in the data that we used. Nevertheless, even with these identified data constraints, these analyses do provide an important first look at these critical issues and begin to identify ways in which administrative data files might be modified to support future analyses.

The California analyses also provide important information about data issues. First, the subsidy data are not as complete as could be hoped  some children who have subsidy changes are not included in the database, as this information does not always get sent from the counties to the state. Second, there is no field in the AAP database that indicates the starting subsidy amount, all that can be gleaned from these data are the subsidy amounts upon the first payment change. Third, these data cannot be readily linked back to the foster care data, so critical information about foster care histories is not available for explaining subsequent subsidy use.

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