Academic journal article Child Welfare

Safety, Permanency, and In-Home Services: Applying Administrative Data

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Safety, Permanency, and In-Home Services: Applying Administrative Data

Article excerpt

This article describes the construction and use of safety and permanency indicators, two aspects of a full set of indicators that also includes child well-being and family functioning. The indicators were constructed from Philadelphia's Family and Child Tracking System and were used to examine the city's Services to Children in their Own Home (SCOH) program. Cohort datasets were constructed through the use of extract files, and two independent data file construction algorithms were employed to calibrate the accuracy of the data construction process. The primary unit of analysis was the "family" spell in SCOH services. Contextual variables included family structure, race, and service intensity. The indicators associated with SCOH spells included reports of maltreatment after service, founded maltreatment after service, and out-of-home placement after service. Event history techniques were used to conduct the data analysis. Baseline indicator data for Philadelphia are presented, and future uses for such data are discussed.

The management and operation of a large child welfare service delivery system is complex. Organizational performance measures are increasingly recognized as a crucial ingredient of child welfare services management [Casey Outcomes and Decision Making Project 1999]. Despite their limitations, administrative data are one of the primary resources for developing these measures. This article describes the use of administrative data in support of a project to develop outcome measures for the Children and Youth Division of the Department of Human Services (CYD/DHS) of the city of Philadelphia.

The system of outcome measurement being designed in Philadelphia is based on three programmatic areas: (1) Services to Children in their Own Homes (SCOH); (2) Family Foster Care (FFC); and (3) Congregate Care (CC). All three areas are in some phase of implementation; the SCOH program outcome measurement system, however, is fully implemented. This article focuses on safety and permanency indicators for the in-home services program or Services to Children in their Own Home (SCOH).

Using Administrative Data to Address Safety and Permanency

Safety and permanency are two critical aspects of a set of outcome indicators, which also should include well-being and functioning. Obtaining well-being and functioning measures for child welfare has proven challenging. The production of safety and permanency indicators from administrative data, however, is becoming increasingly common in child welfare services, as the literature demonstrates.

One important area of research that has developed focuses on understanding the range of services and their structure. Socalled pathways or caseload dynamics studies (c.f., Barth et al. [1994]; Courtney and Collins [1994]; Goerge et al. [1994]) are characterized by the use of computerized administrative data. Goerge et al. [1994: 543] offer a measurement framework for research in this area comprising the following elements:

* Episodes or spells (duration of service),

* Mean number of events (number of new services), Time between events,

* Transition probability (likelihood of change from one state to another), and

* Hazard rate (likelihood that the event will occur).

In justifying the use of administrative data for these sorts of analyses, Barth et al. [1994] identify weaknesses in such data, but offer the most complete rationale for their use. Among their criticisms: administrative data are routinely incorrect due to errors in provision, and often, data are missing. Data are also limited to what is available from the data source, meaning that some information may not be obtainable. Among the strengths of these data are that their sample sizes are large enough not to distort the estimates of the populations. For low base rate events, these data may be the only way to obtain a large enough sample. The alternative process for collecting similar data-case record reviewis also problematic due to the potential for bias of the reader and the difficulty of obtaining sufficiently large samples. …

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