Despite the potential for child welfare agencies to use data to improve outcomes for children and families, the practice is uncommon outside of central offices. This state of affairs exists for many reasons. Child welfare executives make tough choices between investing in building staff capacity and meeting the immediate needs of children and families. Standard child welfare training spends little if any time discussing how to use data to manage operations. As in many other types of organizations, data analysis and interpretation skills among staff are often limited. Though child welfare agencies have more data today than ever before, data quality remains an issue in many systems. Finally, agencies have occasionally used data to advance public relations goals or to punish poor performance, fueling suspicion of data driven management strategies.
Manage by Data, an initiative of the New Jersey Department of Children and Families (NJDCF) funded by the Northeast and Caribbean Implementation Center (NCIC), sought to address this gap as part of NJDCF’s efforts to infuse data-driven decision making throughout the organization. Manage by Data aimed to build the capacity of mid-level staff to use data to manage toward improved outcomes: to diagnose practice issues, to develop solutions, and to track and adjust those solutions as they are implemented.