Access, Governance

Public Agencies Must Securely Share Data to Best Serve Children and Families

Public Agencies Must Securely Share Data to Best Serve Children and Families

Children and families that face the most challenges are often supported by multiple public agencies, like child welfare, housing, education, and health. While these agencies have a shared goal of improving the lives of families in their community, public agencies often do not share data about the families they jointly serve. Without the data necessary to fully understand families’ needs and available resources, public agencies will not be able to answer critical questions about how well they are helping families realize positive outcomes.

Securely sharing and linking key data among public agencies can help identify the effects of public policies and programs so agencies can effectively support children and their families. For example, by sharing data, child welfare and education agencies can work together to significantly improve educational outcomes for students in foster care. These students are often highly mobile and need the coordinated help of both agencies to make smooth transitions between schools, identify and address educational needs, address attendance and discipline issues, ensure student engagement and successful progression toward a high school credential, and more.

To tell the story of how public agencies can successfully share data with one another to help families have better outcomes, the Annie E. Casey Foundation published a series of case studies. Each of these case studies shows how providing critical access to data helps program administrators and policymakers make informed decisions to better serve children and families.

Wisconsin and Washington are two states highlighted for using shared data to create policies that better serve children in foster care and their families. In Wisconsin, data showed that a child support enforcement policy was increasing the amount of time children spent in foster care. The state took action by changing its policy to ensure families could be reunited more quickly. In Washington, two agencies housed within the State Department of Social and Health Services coordinated with one another and used linked data to demonstrate how concurrent benefits speed up family reunification.

Linked data can also be used to create conditions for more effective collective impact. Researchers in Charlotte, North Carolina, and San Antonio, Texas, partnered with local branches of United Way to understand how their out-of-school programs affect students’ outcomes in school. In Charlotte, researchers used data to identify attendance and chronic absenteeism as the issues that had the most adverse impact on United Way participants’ academic performance. In San Antonio, linked data showed that United Way participants were not seeing the same math or reading gains as their peers. The United Way took action by making changes in resource allocation, programming, and instruction time to ensure students were receiving more impactful support.

Collaborative efforts like these are not possible without data. Securely linking and sharing data allows public agencies to create a more complete picture of how children and their families are faring. When access to data is provided to those who need it, data can be used purposefully to make decisions that will result in positive outcomes. The full collection of case studies and additional information can be found on the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s website.