For public child welfare leaders to establish a platform for advancing information management in the 21st century, leaders must first create an agency culture where staff operates with a heightened, active use of information in administrative, programmatic and policy areas. The North Carolina Division of Social Services Practice Notes newsletter provides a useful look into this concept. It cites a study conducted that identified markers of “high-use” and “low-use” agencies. These markers include:
The complete article on agency culture and information management can be found here.
An effective information system creates and reinforces a culture where quality information is used in decision-making to improve outcomes for children, youth and families. An agency that uses high quality information increases its capability to align the goals and objectives outlined in the overall agency strategic plan.
Another issue that agency leaders should consider and address in the context of developing an information management strategy is the role of staff as the primary data collector and the need to ensure that data are recorded and coded correctly. Information management systems are successful if there is sufficient training and active participation by staff so that required information is captured accurately in the system. Agency leaders should be prepared to address this challenge and information management projects should be carefully designed from the beginning.
Further improvement in information management is possible when agencies increase bi-directional sharing of information. Public child welfare benefits from systems that interface with other systems, that support bi-directional data exchange within states and local agencies (and private providers) and that support:
The information management strategy provides a roadmap to help align the agency’s information resources with its business strategies and investment decisions. The strategy begins with a concrete strategic direction and focus that outlines the leadership vision for managing the agency’s information system. It also establishes a public commitment to information management services. Setting the strategic direction for information management allows an agency to be flexible, creative and forward thinking, particularly when the demands of managing daily casework can sometimes overshadow the big picture. It also dictates how an agency will transfer and organize data into knowledge (collecting/analyzing) and provide that information in a timely manner to the people who need it to do the work of the agency (accessing/dissemination). The strategic direction and focus states how leadership will use knowledge to address the challenges and tensions in creating the strategy to manage agency performance, to develop policy and procedures around use and management of the internal system and to monitor progress as part of the continuous improvement process.
Every day, public child welfare agencies collect millions of pieces of data about the children and families that come into contact with the child welfare system and the services they use. Over time, the sheer volume of information has increased to the point where the data cannot be effectively processed without the assistance of technology. These data encompass the organization’score mission, values and practice model, as they are converted into information and knowledge about the populations served, the services provided, whether the services are equitably distributed and the organization itself. The processes whereby data become information and knowledge used by the field are referred to as information management.
Child welfare agencies have been working for years to build and implement information management systems. Many states used federal funds available through the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 to develop Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information Systems (SACWIS). Today, technical limitations, federal requirements and evolving information management systems and technology confound states as they try to develop solutions for state-of-the-art, user friendly, robust systems.
Today, the mandate that public child welfare address child well-being as a part of its responsibility demands collaboration and support from systems far beyond child welfare and ultimately creates the demand for linked data systems. Privatization and the increase in contracting for services have even more tightly bound the public and private systems. Public child welfare information management systems today must be flexible, dynamic and nimble in their ability to accommodate to all of these demands. This flexibility also includes the need to collect and analyze budget and finance information for both fiscal and program analysis.
The challenges to create and implement effective information management systems are many and varied, but fall into two broad categories – understanding information management and building capacity for information management. A deficit in either of these areas makes it difficult for the right people to have the right information at the right time to effectively manage agency performance and improve outcomes.
Information Management Plan
The information management plan ties the principles outlined in the agency’s overall strategic plan to collecting, analyzing, accessing, disseminating and communicating information, establishing a governance structure for effective management and managing agency performance. A sound information management plan identifies the following:
As with other core functions, information management is an iterative process that involves a statement of need, an implementation phase and a regular review of results derived from the activities undertaken within the context of the organization’s own evolving