Child welfare data system: Time for change

With shocking headlines and renewed Legislative attention around child welfare, Texas legislators are signaling desire for real change. For instance, the Lieutenant Governor signaled his concern about the foster care system by creating the Senate Special Committee on Child Protective Services in March 2022. 

With this renewed attention, the state must seize this opportunity to make meaningful change to the system in 2023. We at Texas 2036 believe technological and database improvements can save critical time and funds for both the state agencies and children involved, and that the first step needs to be a Comprehensive Child Welfare Information System.

What is our current system? 

Our current system has been criticized for being too prescriptive and unable to work in tandem with other agency systems. Here’s a breakdown:

Texas’ Department of Family and Protective Services uses a data system called IMPACT, or the Information Management Protecting Adults and Children in Texas. IMPACT is a Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System that was established in 1996. IMPACT is outdated and the data it collects is not always accurate. Texas is one of only five states that have not declared their intent to switch to the new federal standard: a Comprehensive Child Welfare Information System, or CCWIS. 

Texas had the opportunity to upgrade our data system to CCWIS by 2018 but chose to remain with IMPACT. Because the cutoff was missed, there is no path forward to change IMPACT into a CCWIS compliant system because an entirely new system would need to be built. Existing Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information Systems after this date have less federal funding and IT support to integrate with new technologies. 

But the state should not let a sunken cost fallacy, where several million is thrown at the problem every two years—DFPS requested approximately $5 million and 10 full time employees for certain interoperability support for the 2024-2025 budget cycle alone—get in the way of innovation and improved care of children in the state’s care. 

What is a CCWIS Data System? 

These types of online systems support data sharing and allow for real-time updates to better inform decision makers who are interacting with the children or providers, and would cut down on the current efforts and money spent on data collecting and reporting. They encourage program innovation and continuous quality improvement. And they support collaboration with other health, education and human services agencies as well as facilitate communication with the judiciary. In short, they are systems designed to be interoperable and easy to use.

The benefits of CCWIS are clear. 

Implementing a CCWIS will improve efficiency and collaboration across entities including courts, Medicaid, educational institutions and other service providers and stakeholders that require timely access to quality data. 

As of 2021, more than 12,000 department users and nearly 2,000 external users across 13 agencies interact with IMPACT. Correct and accessible data is imperative for decision-making necessary to better care for Texas’ children. CCWIS’ modular structure will also ensure that system maintenance and upgrades are not cost prohibitive, do not disable the system and ultimately provide the state more favorable reimbursement from the federal government. 

Without a CCWIS, Texas is forgoing a federally funded reimbursement rate of 50% or higher, depending on the robustness of the system.

Starting from scratch to implement a new, CCWIS compliant data system would save money in the long-term and better track interaction with families and kids in the system. It’s been over 25 years since the state has implemented IMPACT, and it’s time to make changes to ensure the best data system available for helping foster children.

Interested in other ways the state can modernize? Check out Hope Osborn’s testimony on IT investment needs for Texas.