Since 1994, federal law and regulation have required states 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.
The Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) includes information on foster and adoptive parents. The information required by AFCARS is what a social worker would normally collect during the course of assessment, planning, and service provision, so workers do not need to collect additional information solely for the purpose of meeting AFCARS requirements. The Administration for Children and Families (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 for states.
The information collected and reported via AFCARS is critical to the federal government. The government uses it to determine a state’s level of compliance with the national standards on child safety, permanence, and wellbeing. 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. The government either has reviewed or will review the automated information systems of states with an operational Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System, and at some point, expects all states to have an AFCARS Assessment Review. The following discusses errors identified during the AFCARS Assessment Review process. This information is intended to assist reporting agencies in improving the quantity and quality of the information that they report via AFCARS.
Errors Identified During AFCARS Assessment Reviews
The AFCARS Assessment Review process found that in many instances, states collect information but do not accurately record or maintain it in their automated information systems and are therefore unable to correctly report it for AFCARS purposes.
As a part of the case plan, workers should record appropriate goals for all clients in a case, but above all, for the children in the care of the child welfare agency. Agencies must implement consistent methods for recording case plan goals and train workers to enter this information into the automated information system and review it on a regular basis to keep it accurate and up to date. Typical review findings indicate that case plan goals are not always established in a timely fashion or are not appropriate for the client. This element is used in the Child and Family Services Statewide Data Profile, and states that do not correctly electronically maintain this important information will continue to not meet this CFSR standard.
For AFCARS extraction and submission purposes, information not collected or not available for a particular client record (for whatever reason) is mapped as all blanks (not all zeros, all 9’s, etc.). Missing information should never be mapped to a valid AFCARS value.
In the eight official AFCARS Assessment Reviews and in three of the pilot reviews conducted to this point, this foster care element was one of the more challenging. The average rating for this element on the four-point AFCARS rating scale was 2, with all 11 states receiving this rating. The ratings are based on the AFCARS standard 1–4 rating scale (1, AFCARS requirement has not been implemented; 2, technical system requirements for AFCARS reporting do not fully meet the standards; 3, technical system requirements for AFCARS reporting are in place, but there are data entry problems affecting the quality of the data; and 4, all of the AFCARS requirements have been met).
Readers may obtain technical assistance from the Children’s Bureau’s National Resource Center for Child Welfare Data and Technology (NRC-CWDT). The resource center can be contacted at its Web page: http://nrccwdt.org. If you wish to request onsite technical assistance from the NRC-CWDT, contact your ACF Regional Office.