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Vol. 9, No. 4
July 2004

Data and Child Welfare Practice

As a woman walks down the beach one morning, she notices the sand is littered with starfish washed up by a storm the night before. Then she sees a child picking the starfish up and throwing them back into the sea.

When the child explains what she is doing the woman replies, “You can’t make a difference. There are too many starfish!”

The child throws another starfish into the waves, turns to the woman and says, “I made a difference for that one.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Child welfare workers and supervisors like this story because it resonates with the way they see their work. As a group, they are people who believe it is possible to make a difference in the world. What’s more, they believe that human interaction is the way to do it. They want to get out there, in person, and make that difference for children and their families.

Unfortunately, it is this very same desire to help others that causes many child welfare professionals to hesitate at the idea of working with data. For them, data is about numbers and computers, not helping people.

If they associate data with their work at all, often it is connected with daysheets and documentation, which take up lots of time—time most workers would rather spend serving families.

Imagine the reaction of the child in the story if you required her, in between rescues, to fill out forms on each starfish and you’ll understand how some people in child welfare feel about data.

Despite these sentiments, few would deny that data is important.

We work in a system where, at the national, state, and local levels, the emphasis is increasingly on accountability and outcomes. Every day, legislators, advocates, and agency administrators use data to help them set priorities and guide interventions. From their perspective, data is an essential part of doing good because it helps us understand whether we are fulfilling our mission and meeting our goals.

This issue of Practice Notes will describe the advantages of seeing data in this light. Specifically, we will explore ways data can be used to fine-tune the interventions you are making in your community, look at effective strategies for communicating with staff about performance outcomes, and discuss why the work you already do with data is so important.

In the process, data may lose some of the negative associations it has for you as a child welfare worker or supervisor. Indeed, we hope that eventually you will come to see data in the same way you see the other items in your professional repertoire—as a familiar tool you can use to make a difference for families.


Using Data to Enhance Child Welfare Practice

Using Data-Based Newsletter to Engage Staff, Others Around Child Welfare Outcomes

Agency Culture: A Big Influence on Use of Outcome Data

The CFSR, Outcome Data, and You

North Carolina's Multiple Response System Supports Families Without Compromising Safety, Evaluation Finds
—NC Division of Social Services' Report to NC Legislature on MRS (April 2004)
—Evaluation of MRS by Duke University's Center for Child and Family Policy (April 2004)

Opportunity for Input on Upcoming Course for Supervisors on Use of Data

The Power of Data

Key Points from this Issue

Learn More about Working with Child Welfare Data: Link to Training Matters

References for this Issue

Click here to read or print the entire issue as a pdf file

Additional resources related to this topic: