How New York tracks former foster children

How New York tracks former foster children

It wasn’t that long ago that when children left foster care, social services agencies had no way to track their former charges' progress, or anticipate the issues -- ranging from education and job placement to incarceration or homelessness -- they might face on their own,.

That issue was addressed in 2010, when the federal Administration for Children and Families created the National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD), which collects information from each state on sex, race, ethnicity, date of birth and foster care status of children as they transition out of foster care. The ACF designed and mandated a data collection and reporting program that required each state to extract data from local agencies, providers and youth and store it in an NYTD-compliant database. The information from each state is regularly transmitted to ACF, which uses it for various analyses in support of better and more effective services.

In New York, officials contracted with the University of Albany’s Center for Technology in Government to design a model for data collection for NYTD that fit the current technological and structural environment at the New York state Office of Children and Family Services.

The effort faced several challenges, starting with the sheer size of the task: Foster care in New York involves 57 semi-autonomous counties outside of New York City and hundreds of voluntary service providers of all sizes.  Cumbersome data collection processes, less-than-adequate data in existing social services databases and mismatches between what was collected and what was needed all complicated CTG efforts. Many youths were unaware of the NYTD survey and hesitant to fill it out. Additionally, foster care staff and foster parents were reluctant to allow unknown persons access to the children for the surveys. And because these youths tend to move frequently or change their contact information, it was also difficult to conduct the full series of surveys, which required collecting information multiple times over five years.

To address these issues, CTG and its partners created phone, paper and web surveys, an incentive program, social media outreach and the NYTD Peer Caller Program that used current foster care youths to lead outreach efforts to those being surveyed.

In November, the University of Albany’s Center for Human Services Research took over the project, leveraging its own 20-year history of conducting evaluation research and designing information systems.

“Over the past five years, the Center for Technology in Government has constructed the technological infrastructure, liaisons network and established NYTD brand -- all of which are components that CHSR looks forward to expanding,” said Sarah Rain, a CHSR senior research support specialist. “CHSR is pleased to begin leading the NYTD project to ultimately improve the outcomes for youths transitioning from foster care into independence.”

About the Author

Derek Major is a former reporter for GCN.

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