Aaron Edwards, foster/adoptive parent and data professional

Last November, when Governor Inslee’s Blue Ribbon Commission recommended sweeping changes to their human services branches, I was all ears. Their proposal to combine related but disparate departments into a unified, cabinet-level Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) resonated with me for several reasons.

As a foster-adoptive parent and longtime advocate and caregiver for children, it makes sense to me to coalesce these departments into a better-focused agency. I thought, “Hey state representatives – this makes sense – please get it done ASAP!” We all know the turnover is high with social workers, and with one agency collecting information on children in care along the way – even as a case moves across social workers’ desks – we’ll empower foster parents to have access to accurate records, and make informed decisions and reports to court.

As a professional in the technology field focusing on data, I was elated that the commission so clearly called for real-time sharing of data. It’s a powerful tool for informing crucial decisions and effecting change, helping our dedicated state workers and foster caregivers continually improve on delivery of their missions.

Data is powerful. It’s what allows science to illuminate the world around us. The basic scientific method is to make a hypothesis, and test it. Without test results – data – we are only working with hypothesis after hypothesis. We just end up guessing, or relying on prevailing logic that may not be suited to every context or population, or even be objective. And without broad data, we end up focusing on the small data sets we do have access to – like the 30 kids on one social worker’s caseload. That’s a tiny data set when you think of the thousands of children in foster care in cities and towns across the United States, places with their own contexts, populations, challenges, and resources.

Broad data, the kind that large agencies like the government have access to, helps us evaluate programs, compare different solutions, track trends, anticipate risk factors, and make improvements. And the first step in the process is simple but indispensable: We must start acquiring data.

Once we have it, we can design systems and processes around that data. Ongoing capture of data then helps us understand the situation, evaluate our systems and processes, and refine and improve them. I’m thrilled to see the Commission recommend getting started with step one of this tried-and-tested method for success.

I also believe the Commission’s proposal represents a perspective shift: I see it as a move from a cost structure, focused on the expense or burden of programs supporting children, to a preventative framework, focused on building infrastructure and investing in children and our collective future. And when we can demonstrate success, as data allows us to do, and legislators see what will benefit our kids, it will get funding.

And as a parent to three incredible adopted children, as a foster parent who wants to maintain my license for respite care, and as a community member who’s worked with Child Haven and as a Big Brother, that’s an investment I passionately want us to make.

This article appeared in the February 2017 issue of The Crossroads, Amara’s quarterly newsletter, which convenes community to build a better path for kids in foster care. To subscribe to The Crossroads, sign up here.