Since 1994, by Federal law and regulation, States have been required to collect case level information on all children for whom the State child welfare agency has responsibility for placement, care or supervision and on children adopted under the auspices of the State’s public child welfare agency.
AFCARS also includes information on foster and adoptive parents. The information required by AFCARS is what would normally be collected during the course of a social worker’s assessment, planning, and service provision, so additional information does not need to be collected solely for the purpose of meeting AFCARS requirements. ACF uses the data for many purposes, such as responding to requests from Congress and the public for current data on children in foster care or those who have been adopted; policy decisions; budget decisions and State allocations; monitoring; and technical assistance to States.
The information collected and reported via AFCARS is critical to the Federal government and is used to determine a state’s level of compliance with the national standards on child safety, permanency, and well-being. In connection with these standards all states have undergone a Child and Family Services Review (CFSR) and have developed a CFSR-related Program Improvement Plan (PIP). States with an operational Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System (SACWIS) either have had or will have their automated information system reviewed and, at some point, all states are expected to have an AFCARS Assessment Review. The following paragraphs discuss problems that many States have in reporting on specific AFCARS elements after implementing a new SACWIS application.
Errors Identified During the AFCARS Assessment Reviews:
AFCARS data elements most often affected are “Date of First Removal From Home,” “Date Child Was Discharged from Last Foster Care Episode,” “Date of Latest Removal from Home,” “Total Number of Removals From Home to Date,” “Number of Previous Placement Settings During This Removal Episode?” and “Date of Placement in Current Foster Care Setting.” Errors found most often relate to the conversion or lack of conversion of data from a “legacy” system or paper case file into a new child welfare automated information system. In many instances it appears that the decision not to convert “legacy” data was made based on the fact that this information was felt to be of questionable quality. The problem with not converting client information on previous removals from home and previous placements for the current removal is that this gives incomplete and inaccurate information on the child’s experience in foster care. If a child was removed and placed prior to implementation of the new child welfare information system and the removal is still open the date of conversion is frequently used as a default for many of the required AFCARS dates. If these dates are not available they should be left blank.
Many states did not add or include closed cases to their SACWIS, or other case management information system, at the time of conversion. This approach is fine as long as the new information system has the capability to handle the entry of these “older dates.” Another problem found as a result of the reviews is that many States did not implement a process to ensure that caseworkers enter the entire removal history on open cases or enter the data on a closed case that is reopened.
Data conversion and related system design decisions have an impact on the data that are used by States for program evaluation and for the Federal National Standards. The information provided may significantly under-report the number of removals from home that a child has experienced.
Missing AFCARS Information:
For AFCARS extraction and submission purposes, information not collected or not available for a particular client record (for whatever reason) is always mapped as all blanks (not all zeros, all 9’s, etc.). Missing information should never be mapped or defaulted to a valid AFCARS value.
Technical assistance may be obtained from the Children’s Bureau’s National Resource Center for Child Welfare Data and Technology (NRC-CWDT). The Resource Center can contacted through at its web page: http://nrccwdt.org/. If you wish to request on-site technical assistance from the NRC-CWDT, contact your ACF Regional Office.