As someone who is interested in understanding the impact of adoption on children, youth, families, and social welfare systems, one of my biggest frustrations is that there seems to be concurrently an over-abundance of data, and yet the adoption data is very unorganized, un-centralized and differs greatly depending on who is managing the data.
This past week, I saw two data-related stories that interested me. First, a blog I read regularly, the Child Welfare blog, posted about the blogger's project that aims to improve data-sharing capacity nationwide, county by county, so that nationally, researchers (and anyone interested in the data) could better understand the well-being of children in the child welfare system. County- and state-level data is often not collected uniformly, so this project would create an integrated database.
The other data-related story I came across comes from the Right For Kids site. This organization out of Florida created a ranking system of states using AFCARS and other national data to look at several measures of child safety, permanency and well-being (although the report could do a better job citing where the data came from). The full report is available here.
Adoption data in the United States is not centralized so we have no idea the actual numbers of adopted persons in the country, nor how many children are actually being adopted from the many different silos, or types, of adoption that can occur.
For example, each of the following types of adoption are tracked separately (or not at all):
- children adopted from foster care
- children adopted by relatives or kin
- children adopted by stepparents
- children adopted from other countries
- children adopted through private arrangements
- children adopted through illegal/undocumented arrangements
The reality is that the courts, the state child welfare systems, the private adoption agencies, and the U.S. Census all have different ways of "counting" adoption, and none of them are integrated. In addition, trying to understand multiple facets of adoption, permanency and well-being of children is difficult to do without good data. The U.S. Census only began asking about adopted children in the 2000 Census!
The Right For Kids report discusses their desire to have been able to understand even more about children and youth in foster care, such as their educational outcomes.
In Minnesota, thanks to the Minn-LInK project, the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare could answer that question - as they did in their study, Educational Outcomes for Children in Out of Home Placement - because of the shared data agreement between the state's Department of Human Services, Department of Health and Department of Education.
Better data and shared data means being able to better answer the questions we have about the children and families whom we are serving. Research tells us what is working, what needs to be improved, and promising practices that make lives better.