Child Welfare: Most States Are Developing Statewide Information Systems, but the Reliability of Child Welfare Data Could Be Improved

GAO-03-809 Published: Jul 31, 2003. Publicly Released: Aug 12, 2003.
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To better monitor children and families served by state child welfare agencies, Congress authorized matching funds for the development of statewide automated child welfare information systems (SACWIS) and required that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) compile information on the children served by state agencies. This report reviews (1) states' experiences in developing child welfare information systems and HHS's role in assisting in their development, (2) factors that affect the reliability of data that states collect and report on children served by their child welfare agencies and HHS's role in ensuring the reliability of those data, and (3) practices that child welfare agencies use to overcome challenges associated with SACWIS development and data reliability.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Health and Human Services To improve the reliability of state-reported child welfare data, the Secretary of HHS should consider, in addition to HHS's recent efforts to improve AFCARS data, ways to enhance the guidance and assistance offered to states to help them overcome the key challenges in collecting and reporting child welfare data. These efforts could include a stronger emphasis placed on conducting AFCARS reviews and more timely follow-up to help states implement their improvement plans or identifying a useful method to provide clear and consistent guidance on AFCARS and National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System reporting.
Closed – Not Implemented
The agency increased the number of Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) reviews conducted in fiscal year 2005 from four reviews to five. With respect to improved guidance, the agency continues to report this task as an on-going process conducted through the various vehicles identified in its original comments and made no commitment to adjusting its current process. HHS took no other action on this recommendation.

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