Child Welfare:

HHS Begins to Assume Leadership to Implement National and State Systems

AIMD-94-37: Published: Jun 8, 1994. Publicly Released: Jul 8, 1994.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Joel C. Willemssen
(202) 512-6253
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) progress in developing and implementing a nationwide adoption and foster care data collection system, focusing on: (1) whether HHS has provided adequate leadership to states for developing their systems; and (2) innovative state approaches to developing child welfare information systems.

GAO found that: (1) HHS has taken over 7 years to issue final regulations for the nationwide Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), and states will not be required to send data until mid-1995; (2) because of the delay in issuing the regulations, HHS will not impose full penalties for noncompliance until October 1, 1998; (3) AFCARS will collect data on individual cases rather than aggregate state data, but it will not provide all the information necessary to develop child welfare policy at the federal, state, and local levels; (4) HHS has provided inadequate guidance to the states on what functional capabilities their systems should have because it believes it does not have specific authority to do so; (5) HHS has not assessed functional capabilities in its reviews of states' system planning documents and has only modestly encouraged states to share development information among themselves; (6) some states have developed innovative systems with key capabilities that would be useful in designing a model nationwide system; (7) HHS initiatives to address system implementation problems include issuing final regulations and functional system requirements, working with the states to develop a draft system model for other states to follow in developing their systems, and hiring a contractor to help states develop their systems; (8) several contractors are developing software to extract information from states' child welfare databases; and (9) HHS must sustain its leadership to implement the nationwide system.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to HHS, it added a new financial data element during fiscal year 1995, and has encouraged states to submit suggestions for additions to AFCARS data. However, due to the mandatory requirements for AFCARS, most states prefer to complete their systems before considering new elements. HHS is planning no new initiatives in this regard.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Assistant Secretary for Children and Families to: (1) work with states and child welfare experts to identify other information necessary for developing federal, state, and local child welfare policy that AFCARS will not provide; and (2) establish goals to obtain this information.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: HHS issued initial functional requirements for a statewide automated child welfare information system. Pursuant to an August 1994 contract, HHS has also developed a conceptual design, final functional requirements, and a data dictionary for a prototype system.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Assistant Secretary for Children and Families to work with states, vendors, and child welfare and information system experts to: (1) determine the functional capabilities of a comprehensive statewide automated child welfare information system; and (2) evaluate the feasibility of developing a data dictionary defining uniform child welfare elements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: HHS has established a child welfare information system bulletin board to facilitate the networking and sharing of information between those states planning to develop or developing child welfare information systems. Information on innovative child welfare systems is collected and disseminated via this bulletin board, as well as through national conferences.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Assistant Secretary for Children and Families to establish an approach to routinely collect and disseminate information to the states on innovative state and vendor systems.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to this recommendation, HHS: (1) incorporated some GAO-identified desirable capabilities into functional requirements for a Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System (SACWIS); (2) developed a core model of this system based on extensive user involvement; and (3) developed a SACWIS prototype implementing a small piece of the overall functionality of the core model. The objective of the prototype is to allow potential customers to envision a possible completed solution, but not necessarily the only solution. Using the Internet, HHS has now made this SACWIS prototype available to all states to download and use. Information on the prototype is found at http://www.acf.dhhs.gov/programs/oss/ssacwis.htm.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Assistant Secretary for Children and Families to work with states, vendors, and child welfare and information system experts to determine the key capabilities of a comprehensive automated child welfare information system and provide a model of this system to the states to aid their system development efforts.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Sep 15, 2016

Sep 7, 2016

Jul 8, 2016

Mar 14, 2016

Mar 10, 2016

Feb 23, 2016

Nov 9, 2015

Sep 16, 2015

Jun 15, 2015

Jun 3, 2015

Looking for more? Browse all our products here