Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Capturing Data: Negotiating Cross-Agency Systems

Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Capturing Data: Negotiating Cross-Agency Systems

Article excerpt

Abstract

Sharing information across multiple child serving systems is often difficult, largely due to systems that have not been developed in a coordinated way. This has undesirable impacts on serving the needs of children and families, producing informative outcomes, and managing the costs and redundancy of services. This article describes activities to improve the access to cross-agency information systems, including identifying outcome goals and objectives, the population(s) of concern, needed sources of information, data collection methods, and how data will be used. The benefits of establishing cross-agency agreements, common cross-agency definitions, and procedures to ensure data quality will also be described.

While defining, assessing, and using outcomes is far from an exact science in children's mental health, it is all the more difficult when multiple systems are involved. The difficulties of communicating and sharing information across multiple child serving systems often result in an inadequate service response to the needs of children and families, less favorable outcomes, and more costly and redundant service efforts. The need for streamlined communication and data sharing across child serving agencies is essential; especially when service needs most often outweigh the available resources.

Negotiating cross-agency systems can be optimized with sufficient forethought and planning. The remainder of this article describes activities to consider in accessing cross-agency information to build informative outcome monitoring systems, including identifying outcome goals and objectives, the population(s) of concern, needed sources of information, data collection methods, and how data will be used. The benefits of establishing cross-agency agreements, common cross-agency definitions, and procedures to ensure data quality will also be described.

Identifying Goals and Objectives

The first step in building an outcome monitoring system that is informed by cross-agency data is defining the goals and objectives of the service system. More simplistically put--identifying what you want to know. It is essential to identify the services or interventions offered, to whom they will be offered, and the anticipated outcomes associated with receiving those services. Defining a program theory is a helpful way of representing the characteristics of the services and their anticipated effects (Bickman, 1987). A program theory essentially specifies the problem of interest (mental health needs of children), outlines the intervention (activities and resources available to address the problem), and characterizes the underlying logic regarding the relationships between the intervention and the anticipated outcomes for participating individuals. Defining the program theory requires individuals to select which relationships are likely to be the most meaningful and, as a consequence, what information is impo rtant to collect and examine. Although program theories can be defined in text, graphic illustrations in the form of logic models are often easier to understand across multiple stakeholders. Figure 1 illustrates a hypothetical program theory and logic model for a cross-agency mental health initiative for children and their families. This particular model tracks information and change at both the system and individual levels, speculating that as systems change, so do the individuals served by those systems, thereby resulting in modifications in the demands placed on the system and the system's response to those demands.

Stakeholder identification is critical to the success of cross-agency outcome systems. Stakeholders are defined as individuals or groups that influence program interventions, individuals and groups that are affected by a given program or intervention, and individuals and groups with vested interests in program outcomes.

Defining the program theory and associated logic model increases the likelihood of identifying the way in which and the extent to which the program or intervention has been implemented. …

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