Open Data Systems are Key to Solving Challenges in Youth and Family Services

Happy kids holding gifts in classroom

While the nation’s attention is drawn to the 2016 presidential election, the current administration is focused on finishing strong before the end of the year. In a March 31 interview in the Chronicle of Social Change, Rafael López, Commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families (ACYF), discussed his top priorities for ACYF before the end of the administration.

López said the department has made the implementation of four rules the top priority before the term runs out:

  1. The Family Violence Prevention Services Act rule, which deals with the treatment of survivors and victims of domestic violence. The goal is to make sure that everyone who is a victim of domestic violence gets the services they need when they need them.
  2. The Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, which provides street outreach programs, temporary housing, and transitional housing for runaway and homeless youth. The act also has provisions to fight youth trafficking.
  3. AFCARS, the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System. This is the required system for states to report data on youth and children in foster care. López says the data reporting rules haven’t been changed in a while and need to be updated.
  4. Implementing CCWIS, the Comprehensive Child Welfare Information System that replaces the older SACWIS systems. CCWIS is a framework for the way in which tribes, county and state systems capture real-time information in their child welfare databases.

The comments by Mr. López highlight the importance of data management systems in ensuring the well-being of children and families. All four of the administration’s priority projects include a strong data collection and reporting mandate.

“One of the things we’re trying to figure out is how to accelerate the sharing of data and be proactive in sharing data in an open data format,” López said. “The field has to catch up with technology and innovation.”

The move to CCWIS is an important step in achieving the ACYF goal of more open data sharing. CCWIS envisions smaller, nimbler data systems interfacing to share data across program boundaries, departments, and agencies. Data interoperability is a key component of the CCWIS specification. Data systems must have the ability to import data, associate it with existing data, and create meaningful information sets. It also must have an open API and integrations with other data systems using established data protocols such as HL7.

This type of data sharing is crucial in life-or-death situations, as López illustrated when talking about ways the system fails children in catastrophic events (such as the death of a child). He listed three root causes:

  • Lack of communication among staff who have responsibility for that child
  • Lack of information sharing when multiple government entities have been involved with that child’s family
  • A lapse in being able to be responsive

All three root causes stem from a lack of data accessibility, either within a single department or across multiple agencies. Integrated case management solutions that increase the knowledge transfer within organizations and enhance communication and collaboration across departments can help reduce the likelihood of such events occurring. It is encouraging that ACYF is actively working to make a positive impact in these areas before the change in administration.

Source: The Chronicle of Social Change (

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