Because public child welfare agencies operate in a multi-system context (e.g., schools, health care, juvenile justice and mental health), leaders must consider how the collection of, analysis of and access to data about children and families across systems will be shared. The process of building a communication path between one or more independent systems is known as an interface. In the information management arena, information portals are built to manage the distribution of large quantities of data through interconnections between computers and other networks, interfaces. Many human service systems have begun to experiment with innovations to advance data interfaces and links to other systems. These activities:
Allow governments to increase coordination of previously disconnected systems. Improve coordination and collaboration on cross-systems solutions.
Improve efficiency, standardization, reliability and availability of comprehensive programs and services to improve outcomes for children, youth and families.
The means for transmitting data can be done through a variety of interface options including access to real-time data, the bi- directional exchange of data (preferably in real-time) and the 21st century advancements in interoperability. Real-time data refers to the direct, automatic uploading of common data elements. Once an interface has been created, the direct real-time, computer- to-computer exchange of electronic information is possible. Bi-directional data exchanges require developing interfaces between at least two systems that permit sharing of and access to specific types of data. Interoperability allows information technology systems across multiple agencies to share information.
Another option that can be used to understand outcomes for children and youth in the public child welfare system is data linking. Data linking offers potential for states to assess the outcomes of public child welfare children, youth and families across a range of systems. Agencies can identify which systems of care children are involved with. User-friendly data linking tools are emerging in the public child welfare field and researchers and information managers can now mine state and local data sets for insights and
trends that can inform policy and practice innovations.2
Another consideration or the next phase of public child welfare information management that incorporates 21st Century technology innovations is the focus on interoperability: allowing IT systems across multiple social services agencies to share information
Additional information on public child welfare, technology and interoperabilit can be found at Stewards of Change and Rick
Freidman's report, Improving Data Interoperability: Opportunities for States.