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July/August 2009Vol. 10, No. 6What Is Data Integration?

By Lynda Arnold, Director, National Resource Center for Child Welfare Data and Technology

With the current emphasis on data to guide and inform decisions in child welfare, data integration is a common term. But what is meant by data integration? If you ask 50 people, you will probably get at least that many different answers. One common definition is "the process of combining data residing at different sources and providing the user with a unified view of these data"; that is, taking data from various sources to be presented in a user-friendly way that will give more information in a broader context. There are currently many efforts in child welfare that are doing just that, and several of these are highlighted in this edition.

Data integration is a priority of the Children’s Bureau's Training and Technical Assistance (T&TA) Network. Within this context, data integration also means the integration of data with practice. Data should be used to inform practice—to know when practice is achieving the desired outcomes, identify those practices that are working or not working, and assist decision makers in such crucial areas as resource allocation, technical assistance, and monitoring and reviewing strategies and programs. True data integration occurs when you don't talk about the issues without having data in front of you.

It is essential that when organizations are in the process of making system changes, the data and the systems and processes used to collect data are considered from the very beginning. Linking data indicators and analyses methods with new practices and approaches at the onset will help ensure the fit between evaluation and practice and increase the usefulness of data over time. A priority within the T&TA Network is to assist in improving the use of data throughout the organization to ensure that the organization uses data to inform practice and to plan, manage, and measure results!

Members of the T&TA Network work collaboratively to enhance the use of data from various sources and to integrate data in practice throughout child welfare, including the areas of child protection, foster care, adoption, and preventive and in-home services. The Network can also help the various entities that all touch the lives of children and families to coordinate and share meaningful data about their interventions and progress, including the courts, Tribes, and State and local child welfare agencies. Collaboration within the T&TA Network helps ensure that the organizations served have the benefit of holistic T&TA that integrates practice and data.

Lynda Arnold is also the Vice President, Knowledge Management, at the Child Welfare League of America. She can be reached at