Data You Need to Succeed in Case Management

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Why do data standards change? How much data collection is enough, and what are the current HUD data standards? In this article, we discuss all the above and the potential effects of thorough data collection during intake.

The world of social work runs on data. Without good aggregate data—and individual client data—it would be impossible to provide social services that reliably improve client outcomes. Federal decision makers use aggregate data to make decisions on funding and how to serve vulnerable populations, so what data fields are critical for case management?

To succeed in case management at your organization, be it a social-service organization focused on homelessness, refugee services, food and nutrition services, victim services, or whole-person care, your data collection process has to hit all the critical data fields that will:

  • comply with federal and state standards, and
  • inform your care coordination decisions.

In this article, we’ll talk about what data needs to be collected for successful case management, why these data fields matter, and what the current conversation is on data collection.

Why Do Data Standards Change?

Data is only useful insofar as it’s:

  • relevant,
  • timely, and
  • predictive.

However, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) frequently changes its data standards—almost every two years—so what you need to succeed in case management is going to change constantly, based on the desired outcomes.

For example, let’s say you’re assessing someone’s vulnerability to homelessness: for housing services, the Vulnerability Index—Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool (VI-SPDAT) was the gold standard. However, the VI-SPDAT has come under increased scrutiny in recent years following concerns it didn’t accurately capture how different ethnic minorities would answer the intake questions, therefore disproportionately preventing otherwise-qualified individuals from receiving aid.

In other words, intake questions might not always informed enough on the normal distribution of socioeconomic obstacles among certain minority populations.

What Are the Current Data Standards?

The data standards set forth by HUD state that most relevant data will include the following:

  • Household income and sources
  • Non-cash benefits
  • Health insurance
  • Disability (physical and developmental)
  • Chronic health conditions
  • HIV/AIDS status
  • Mental health disorder
  • Substance use disorder
  • Domestic violence
  • Current living situation
  • Date of engagement
  • Bed-night date
  • Coordinated entry assessment
  • Coordinated entry event

Most social-service organizations will need data specific to a client’s health conditions. In case management oriented toward housing stability, household income will be relevant. The list above contains common, program-specific data elements.

How Important Are the Data Standards?

Communities are required to collect a lot of data for a few reasons. First, federal funders want to validate their investments are “paying off.” Second, all that data helps coordinate care and understand client needs.

The more data you have that’s reflective of a person or population, the more accurately you’ll be able to identify outcomes and recommendations to case workers.

These data fields affect not only client eligibility but also operational efficiency. You want to be surgical and only recommend or provide services that are going to help, not just throw services at clients in an a-la-carte fashion.

Potential Harm in Data Collection

A word of caution: many social workers feel this level of data is intrusive, perhaps even traumatizing to them and to their clients. After all, questions like, “Have you ever been raped?” or, “Have you ever committed sex acts in exchange for money or food?” can have an emotional cost to both the client and the worker performing the intake.

Psychologist Stephen Fleming, a world-renowned trauma researcher, writes:

[O]ne need not directly experience or observe an event for it to be potentially traumatic; events experienced by others that one learns about also have this potential.

The operative word there is “potential.” In a recent interview, Fleming states he prefers to use the term “potentially traumatic event” (PTE) because it doesn’t assume trauma or PTSD symptoms, as many people can experience PTEs without any PTSD symptoms.

On that same vein, potential harm can be caused when the intake worker assumes the new client must have been traumatized, which can prime that individual with a false narrative of how they “should” have reacted to the PTE.

That said, reliving old PTEs can also cause temporary emotional distress. So that’s where the debate lives right now: do we cause more potential harm by not collecting enough data or by collecting too much?

The fact that the United States has a threshold on spending toward vulnerable populations isn’t likely to change. Therefore, we still need a lot of that data.

Data Collection Made Easier

Data collection is most effective when the process comes with an intuitive, secure software. Many case managers are requires to maintain vast case loads, but when their technology consists of multiple spreadsheets, data aggregation is almost impossible.

That’s why many organizations utilize ClientTrack® for their case management platform. An industry-leading software and data warehouse, ClientTrack increases efficiency in the data-collection process so intakes are seamless for clients.

If you’re interested in talking with one of our industry experts to improve your data quality, schedule a demo with us today!

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