Earlier today in our Stability, Permanency & Adoption (SPA) blog, JaeRan blogged about data in the child welfare system as being "unorganized, uncentralized, and differ[ing] greatly depending on who is managing the data." She concluded with an explanation of how having better and shared data can help us better answer our questions about the wellbeing of children and families, since "[r]esearch tells us what is working, what needs to be improved, and promising practices that make lives better."
The media vs. research to inform policy
Research and its data can and should also be used to inform child welfare policy. Although high-profile cases can assist in bringing issues to light (such as the horrific child sexual abuse that occurred on the Penn State campus, which has resulted in raising awareness of child sexual abuse), and many policies have been proposed and/or enacted as the result of these high-profile cases (see our tag media & publicity for examples), it is not necessarily a good idea to allow high-profile cases to inform policy, particularly as it relates to children and families. These 'knee-jerk' reactions that result in instant policy changes can often be as harmful, if not more harmful, than the policies that had been in existence. Research allows us to utilize practices and policies that we know will work, unlike emotions and opinions, which dictate use of practices and policies that we think and hope will work.
"In 1995, a nine-month-old was murdered by her mother's boyfriend...This horrible event and two other child abuse deaths that followed within an eight-day period prompted direct intervention by the governor and a shift from family preservation-oriented services to a 'safety first' approach. Within a month, 100 children were removed from their families, and there was a 20% increase in children placed in foster care over the four months following these events." (For the entire article, see p. 10 in our Spring 2012 CW360°.)
Current and upcoming data initiatives
Here at CASCW we house the Minn-LInK project, which uses shared administrative data from the Departments of Health, Human Services, and Education to answer questions about the impact of policies, programs, and practices on child wellbeing in Minnesota. The Center on Children, Families, and the Law at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln is developing a "national database of county-level data regarding children, allowing users to create customized charts, dashboards, and interact."
Projects like these allow data to be organized and accessible. It can then be used to inform child welfare policy through quality research.