HHS reported that 47 states are developing or operating a SACWIS, but manycontinue to face challenges developing their systems. Most state officialssaid they recognize the benefit their state will achieve by developingSACWIS, such as contributing to the timeliness of child abuse and neglectinvestigations; however, despite the availability of federal funds since 1994,states reported a median delay of 2-½ years beyond the timeframes they setfor completion. States reported that they encountered some difficultiesduring SACWIS development, such as challenges receiving state funding andcreating a system that reflected their work processes. In response to some of these challenges, HHS has provided technical assistance to help statesdevelop their systems and conducted on-site reviews of SACWIS to verifythat the systems meet federal requirements.
Despite efforts to implement comprehensive information systems, severalfactors affect the states’ ability to collect and report reliable adoption, fostercare, and child abuse and neglect data. States responding to GAO’s surveyand officials in the 5 states GAO visited reported that insufficientcaseworker training and inaccurate and incomplete data entry affect thequality of the data reported to HHS. In addition, states reported technicalchallenges reporting data. Despite HHS’s assistance, many states reportongoing challenges, such as the lack of clear and documented guidance onhow to report child welfare data. In addition, although states were mandatedto begin reporting data to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis andReporting System (AFCARS) in 1995, few reviews of states’ AFCARSreporting capabilities have been conducted to assist states in resolving someof their reporting challenges.
Some states are using a variety of practices to address the challengesassociated with developing SACWIS and improving data reliability. Forexample, 44 states included caseworkers and other system users in thedesign and testing of SACWIS, and 28 states reported using approaches tohelp caseworkers identify and better understand the data elements that arerequired for federal reporting.
Factors That Affect the Reliability of Data Reported to HHS
Which may lead toinaccurate measures of:
State performanceon federal outcomesChildren'sexperiences,such as timespent infostercare
I n f o r m a t i o n
Factors affecting data quality:
Inaccurate and incomplete data-entry by caseworkersInsufficient caseworker trainingDifferences between state andfederal data definitionsLack of clear, documentedguidance from HHSDifficulty accessing technicalassistance from HHS
Source: GAO analysis.
Resulting inpotentially unreliableinformation on abusedand neglectedchildren available infederal data systems
To better monitor children andfamilies served by state childwelfare agencies, Congressauthorized matching funds for thedevelopment of statewideautomated child welfareinformation systems (SACWIS) andrequired that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)compile information on thechildren served by state agencies.This report reviews (1) states’experiences in developing childwelfare information systems andHHS’s role in assisting in theirdevelopment, (2) factors that affectthe reliability of data that statescollect and report on childrenserved by their child welfareagencies and HHS’s role inensuring the reliability of thosedata, and (3) practices that childwelfare agencies use to overcomechallenges associated with SACWISdevelopment and data reliability.In order to improve the reliabilityof state-reported child welfaredata, GAO recommends that theSecretary of HHS consider ways toenhance the guidance andassistance offered to states to helpthem overcome the key challengesin collecting and reporting
childwelfare data. In commenting onthis report, HHS generally agreedwith GAO’s findings andcommented that the report provides a useful perspective of the problems states face in collectingdata and of HHS’s effort to provideongoing technical assistance toimprove child welfare data.
To view the full product, including the scopeand methodology, click on the link above.For more information, contact Cornelia M.Ashby at (202) 512-8403 orAshbyC@gao.gov.Highlights ofGAO-03-809,a report to
Most States Are Developing StatewideInformation Systems, but the Reliabilityof Child Welfare Data Could Be Improved