Data sharing to protect kids


Child smiling

Two Michigan state agencies, the State Court Administrative Office (SCAO) and the Michigan Department of Human Services (MDHS), are continuing their remarkable partnership to improve the performance and accountability in child abuse, neglect, foster care, adoption, and legal guardianship cases among the approximately 16,000 foster children in Michigan.

The goal is to improve children’s safety, health and living situation stability and to improve compliance with due process and timeliness in the court’s disposition of cases
Collaboration between the two agencies – indeed, between two branches of government – is one of the most important aspects of this arrangement. And that includes sharing data to conduct advanced analytics. Previously, SCAO and DHS information was siloed and neither agency had the whole picture. But over the past few years, thanks to data-sharing agreements and administrative collaboration, Michigan’s enterprise statewide data warehouse serves as the informational and analytical backbone for the project. And in less than a year, the State increased family reunifications 33 percent among temporary court wards.

SCAO and MDHS are continuing to analyze an ever-growing child-specific database to determine an individual’s well-being. The initiative recognizes the value of linking data sets to improve outcomes. It provides access to more thorough information needed to provide a multi-program, holistic view of children and families. 

The specific performance measurements are divided into five areas:

  • Safety. To ensure that children are safe from abuse and neglect while under court jurisdiction
  • Permanency. To ensure that children have stability and permanency in their living situations
  • Due Process. To ensure that cases are dealt with impartially and based on evidence before the court
  • Timeliness. To enhance the “expedition to permanency” by minimizing the time from filing of the petition to take jurisdiction over the child to permanency
  • Well being. To examine and address factors other than safety and permanency that relate to a child’s future welfare. There are specific measures within this area that focus on physical health, mental health, and special education needs

By combining the timeliness and permanency measures, the State can identify and work on reuniting children with their families, when appropriate, and bring those children who cannot return home to a more permanent living situation faster. 

The State has plans to broaden the data-sharing agreement to include health data on foster children, such as physician visits, immunization information, and dental information. This will provide judges with a clear view of the child’s overall health, leading to even more effective decision-making related to placements.

Experts are noticing Michigan’s work. Jonathan Walters, executive editor of Governing magazine, who specializes in human services issues, recently sat down for an interview with the State of Michigan to discuss data sharing between the SCAO and DHS.  

The article appears on the Governing Human Services blog at http://www.governing.com/topics/health-human-services/col-challenge-sharing-data-human-services.html. The story discusses the leadership required and the challenges faced by agencies that want to share data to solve problems, particularly, in this case, when data-sharing is occurring between two branches of government – the executive and the judicial. As for culture, the report succinctly notes that "[p]reparing staff to use a dramatically different information system does not mean simply training them on the use of the new system, but rather confronting a major shift in the culture of the entire organization."

Walters notes: “Technology doesn’t bridge gaps, people do,” while pointing out the role of leadership in the Michigan effort.