Information Management

Information Management

The primary responsibility of public child welfare agencies is to ensure the safety, permanency and well-being of children, youth and families. Information is collected on a daily basis on reports of abuse and neglect, on the services being provided to families whose children are under the auspices of the system and demographic data on the youth and families being served through public child welfare programs. Understanding all of these dynamics is the responsibility of public child welfare leaders and having reliable, valid data is critical to planning at all levels in the agency.

There is a constant and growing need in the public child welfare field to generate basic information on the children who come into contact with the child welfare system. Given that knowledge is power and that information processed accurately produces knowledge that is a basis for any needed corrective actions, a public child welfare leader must focus on investments and resources to manage information. Investments in technology infrastructure, as well as human capital (staff) are essential for efficient and effective information management. Public child welfare workers carry the burden of collecting primary data on children, youth and families served by child welfare and their role on the “input” side should be emphasized and fully supported. Equally important is the “output” side of information management; agency leaders must stress that the proper use of information is a primary support to good practice. This information will inform decisions to improve agency performance at all levels, ultimately enabling equitable treatment and improving outcomes for children and families.

 

General Overview

Information management brings together two basic concepts: information and management. Information is broadly defined in this guidance and includes all manner of data in its many forms. The various types of information agencies collect pertains to individuals/families that are the recipients of public child welfare services, business entities that provide services (i.e., public and private agencies as organizations), workforce (i.e., personnel), communities (e.g., census data or other population level data) and data of a fiscal nature (e.g., cost analysis, budget projections).

Management is defined as: “the conducting or supervising of something (as a business),” and “the judicious use of means to accomplish an end .”1 For purpose of this guidance, management is the coordination of various resources in all or part of an agency in order to efficiently accomplish the agency’s goals.

 

The cable that bridges the two concepts of information and management is technology. Technology supports efficient data collection and utilization. It can be a powerful tool to improve data integrity. It is also what supports practice, program and policy collaboration in aligning information management and technology investments.

Purpose of Guidance

This guidance is addressed specifically to help public child welfare agency leaders and members of their information management team (technology managers, business analysts, researchers, quality assurance staff, etc.) understand the scope and importance of information management as a core support function within their organization. Information management promotes management of the agency and supports efforts to make the necessary and appropriate information available/accessible to the appropriate stakeholders (children and families served, direct service workers, managers and the agency’s various publics) when it is needed and in a format that is understandable.

Central Issues

One of the major shifts in the past decade in the field of public child welfare is the proliferation of information management systems. Alongside advancements in building internal capacities are the increased investments in information technology. There is often some confusion between information management and information technology. Information management is the process that converts data contained in systems into information. Technology is the tool through which data are processed. The interface between technology systems and information management in public child welfare field is an issue of increased importance.

Additional information on this distinction can be found here.

Public child welfare agencies and managers are devoted to improving organizational performance and accountability. Increased attention is given to improving information management systems that seek to measure the effectiveness of service provision, but also to monitor and analyze administrative functions such as budget and finance, human resources and technology.

 

As agencies struggle to advance information management for the 21st century, a consideration of data linkages is essential. Currently, systems that do not support linkages are less able to produce outcome measures for children in foster care that

incorporate all of the dimensions of child well-being. Agencies are also not able to take advantage of the many cost savings andadministrative efficiencies that result from linked data systems. A court example: ,ready access to court calendars by social workers and the ability to file petitions and other court documents electronically is compromised. Common themes identified regarding the need for linked systems in the context of managing information include:

  • Common Database 
  • Database Accessibility 
  • Functionality
  • Flexibility 
  • Development/Redesign Training/Technical Assistance
  • Lack of Funding for Private Provider Use

Effective child welfare information management systems promote consistency and accountability and enable public child welfare leaders to understand and promote the use of performance measures to improve outcomes and child welfare practice. These systems must be “true user-friendly” systems that reduce the redundancy in data entry and create a better process for documenting activities.

 

This Guidance Provides Answers to These and Other Questions:

 

  • What is information management? Why is it important? How is information management linked to outcomes for children,
  • families and communities?
  • What goes into an information management plan?
  • What are the key processes and how are they aligned so that they support the agency’s vision and culture? What mechanisms are needed to implement the information management plan?
  • What environmental or contextual factors must information managers understand and respond to in order to be effective in facilitating efficient public child welfare practice?
  • What are the potential challenges/tensions that need to be addressed when developing or updating a public child welfare information management plan?
  • Why is this Critical Area Important to the Field of Child Welfare?

An effective information management system enables the development of sound policies to direct and shape casework practice so that they promote the safety, permanency and well-being of children, youth and families. Effective information management facilitates good decision-making so that services are delivered in an equitable, cost-effective and efficient manner. Effective information management promotes alignment with federal compliance requirements, agency priorities and the strategic concepts outlined in the Information Management Plan.

 

By developing and maintaining a robust information management system, the field will have: Availability of and access to accurate, reliable, baseline and longitudinal data.

  • Improved quality and integrity of data.
  • Information that facilitates knowledge-based decisions to affect equitable service delivery, administration, research and evaluation, program monitoring and outcome measurement.
  • Performance and outcome data on children and families served in terms of child safety, timely progress toward permanency goals, child well-being and any noted disparities (e.g., consistently slow reunifications or adoptions among an ethnic minority group).
  • Reduced administrative costs through streamlined workflow processes – require less time to mine data within the system and generate reports.
  • Access to constantly updated information from a user-friendly system – ability of staff to update information more efficiently.
  • Better collaboration across agency departments and with external stakeholders through established system access protocols.
  • Improved service delivery through availability of up-to-date information to match services to needs.

Collecting and analyzing data (two key processes in effective information management) supports improvements in each of the indicators listed above. These processes also support continuous quality improvement activities, specifically regarding the appropriate use of resources to support the a ency’s overall strategic plan. Leaders will be more strategic in establishing the

importance of information management and tgency’s overall strategic plan. Leaders will be more strategic in establis

he connection to achieving positive outcomes through analysis of fiscal,

importance of information management an

programmatic and operational information. How Will Outcomes be Achieved For and With Children, Youth and Families?

Information management is not an intervention. Competent information management is a necessary condition for achieving positive outcomes in a public child welfare agency, in the same way that sound fiscal or human resource management is critical to the effective functioning of the system. Information management should provide relevant and timely information to inform agency decisions regarding the process and quality of work with children and families, the allocation of resources and the structure of the organization.

 

The logic path for linking information management to improved outcomes for children and families can be described in the following manner:

  • Agency management uses information and other forms of knowledge to allocate resources in accordance with the agency mission. This alignment to the agency vision frames the outcomes, the culture and climate of the work environment and the work of the agency (core processes and service quality – the inputs designed to influence child and family outcomes).
  • Using the resources available to them, frontline workers, together with supervisors and other direct service providers, engage children, youth and families for purposes of providing services in keeping with the agency’s mission, vision and practice model.
  • In the course of providing services (and supporting the provision of services) stakeholders collect data. These data describe what was done and how the work was supported. The information gathered includes such matters as family dynamics, presenting needs, strengths, services, etc.
  • Captured data are analyzed over time at the client and aggregate levels. Quantitative data illustrate trends in service provision and child and family outcomes and may point to issues like disproportionate population representation.
  • Qualitative data describe softer data such as the attitudes and motivation of the children, youth and families that staff members connect with, or capabilities of the service system, and may help to explain how disproportionality occurs. To determine the benefit of the services provided, workers, supervisors, administrators and researchers evaluate relationships between outcomes and the work done on behalf of the families. These relational correlations are a component of performance measurement. The ongoing monitoring and reporting of program accomplishments toward pre- established goals help agencies measure the effectiveness and efficiency of programs and services.
  • Using the information collected, decisions are made about the progress towards achieved outcomes for children and, the elimination of any service disparities, key program and practice initiatives and the extent to which an agency has complied with requirements. Adjustments are made to services based on the analysis of the data.





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