How will states know they’re doing better?
Inadequate data on service needs, utilization, costs, performance, and outcomes plague states’ attempts to implement child welfare fiscal reforms. Public agencies need data to design and manage their initiatives, and contractors need data to improve performance and satisfy reporting requirements. In particular, as child welfare agencies move from documenting process to measuring results, information on outcomes and performance is needed. And in order for public agencies to establish reasonable payment rates and performance standards, they must have good service, cost, and outcome data.
However, few initiatives have the necessary management information systems (MIS’s) to provide timely access to all the needed data. Although numerous initiatives relied on MIS data for contract monitoring and/or case decisionmaking, the data produced tended to be too limited and the systems too inflexible to be useful for assessing the impact of the reforms. In many cases, public agencies and contractors are working inefficiently with incompatible systems, and both have difficulty buying or developing systems that respond to their needs. Substantial investment is needed in hardware, software, and training to ensure that information technology is available and used for system improvement. To be most useful, an MIS should:
- Be performance-based and capable of tracking children, families, and providers on a timely basis;
- Incorporate the perspective of various users (e.g., able to track service utilization, costs, client status, and outcomes; handle billing and reimbursement; and provide user-driven reports);
- Link with or be part of the state’s Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System (SACWIS)17;
- Include privacy protections for clients and families; and
- Be compatible between various government and service system entities.