Friday, June 1, 2001
The session coordinator was Fred Wulczyn of Chapin Hall and the principal speakers were Toni Lang of the New York State Council on Children and Families, Wulczyn himself, and Dean Duncan of the University of North Carolina.
The New York State Council on Children and Families, is composed of 13 health, education, and human service commissioners and directors. It is charged with acting as a neutral body that coordinates these systems to ensure all children and families in New York have the opportunity to reach their potential. In the mid-1990s, the commissioner of education, at a Council meeting, identified the need for a common set of goals and objectives, and the parallel need for indicators to measure progress toward those goals. This led to the development of the New York Touchstones framework. The 1998 state data book was the first to present these well-being indicators using that framework. Following publication, New York developed their web site, the Kids Well-Being Clearinghouse to further disseminate these data.
Touchstones has two teams, an executive level guidance team and a data team. The first team is responsible for direct communication with the commissioners. The data team is responsible for finding out which data are available. The teams were convened to help develop the goals for the data web site. Among the objectives developed for the site by these teams and by surveying potential users were that:
- The site increase community-level use of the data
- The site be interactive to help interpret data
- The system be simple and user friendly
- That the data be accurate and timely
The site developed met these goals. It groups data in a variety of ways, such as annual totals and three-year averages. Additionally, the site provides substantial background information to the users. After it was deployed, it was revised to make it further accessible for users. Lang demonstrated some of the capabilities of the site for the audience. Simple steps allow the creation of tables and some regional analyses. Key definitions are linked to the table creation process in order to enhance clarity.
Overall, the site seems to be increasing efficiency of use and expanding access to current data while simultaneously tailoring data to individual users needs and expanding the number of indicators available.
Wulczyn discussed a new information system that helps the foster care contractors of New York City's Administration for Children's Services (ACS) use information to help further permanency outcomes for children. ACS thought that if it could get away from a per diem reimbursement system, that could influence contract agency performance. They further recognized that for agencies to function effectively outside the per diem reimbursement system, they needed reliable information on their performance. Since agencies are differentially able to access and utilize data, ACS decided to consolidate and distribute indicator data in ways useful to all agencies, effectively leveling the performance playing field. This effort was also intended to support decision-making at the clinical level. Contractors are able to access individual-level and aggregate data and to dynamically query the database to identify unique groupings of children.
Wulczyn then opened the password-protected site and demonstrated how an agency could access their own data (but no one else's) in aggregate and at the client level. Also included is other relevant information for agencies. Wulczyn demonstrated how the agency managers can use the system to think about agency performance, plan for children's future time in the system, and structure decision making.
North Carolina has developed a site to track indicators in relation to its welfare reform ("Work First") program. The site, which runs off a server at the North Carolina social work school, includes both state and county level data.
Duncan demonstrated the functionality of the site, noting in particular how generating charts and graphs also generates an explanation to help keep data in context. He further discussed some of the problems created by real-world use of service system data.