• December 2014/January 2015
  • Vol. 15, No. 11

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Site Visit: Improving Educational Well-Being Outcomes for Children

Using a 17-month Children's Bureau (CB) grant, the Allegheny County (Pennsylvania) Department of Human Services (DHS), the Pittsburgh Public School (PPS) District, and the Allegheny County Family Court continued their work to improve educational stability and permanency outcomes for children being served by all three systems. The project, built on an existing data-sharing partnership between DHS and PPS, began in 2009 and has helped improve collaboration between the school, social services, and the courts.

The two core initiatives of the project were EdMap, which established or improved the technological infrastructure of the project, and the Shared Accountability for Education program that fostered joint accountability among court, DHS, and school staff for the educational and overall well-being of the children served by all three entities. The grant funded technological enhancements to DHS's case management system, building a decision support tool to identify best-fit placements for children in out-of-home care and improved access to education records for social service workers and the court system. In addition, the grant helped fund educational trainings and professional development for all three systems regarding educational issues and barriers for children involved in the child welfare system. 

In 2009, DHS and the PPS District signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that allowed for data sharing to conduct research and analysis related to students' educational status and possible strategies for improving educational outcomes. In addition, if consent is obtained, the up-to-date education information can be shared with direct service workers at DHS to more closely follow the academic performance of children on their caseloads and to address issues more expeditiously. DHS is responsible for integrating and housing the data in the DHS data warehouse and conducting the analyses. The PPS District is responsible for providing educational and directory information to DHS for all enrolled students. Shared data include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Personal identifiers of students
  • School directory information
  • Demographics
  • Federal free and reduced lunch eligibility
  • Student performance
  • Attendance
  • Disciplinary actions
  • Special education and gifted education

In October 2012, a new MOU expanded the project's scope to allow DHS to share with PPS personal identifiers of children who are adjudicated dependent by the court, as well as the contact information for their child welfare caseworkers. In addition, DHS can now share information for all children who are identified as homeless in order to help them receive school supports, as required by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. While the legal framework to share this information exists, at the writing of this article, DHS and the district are still working through the implementation.

All data received from PPS can be used in aggregate, de-identified analysis. DHS uses the data to prepare reports that identify characteristics and indicators related to academic successes and challenges for students involved with human services. DHS and the school districts then develop effective strategies for addressing the needs of students and their families. The individual student records can be accessed under two scenarios only: (1) if the child is adjudicated dependent, which is known through information from the Common Pleas Court Management System, and (2) if the caseworker uploads a signed parental consent into KIDS.1

The project has yielded the following results:

  • Automation of the State education screen. The Pennsylvania State Education Screen was built into the KIDS case management system and must be completed for all school-age children involved with child welfare. DHS reduced the workload of caseworkers by populating some of the fields from the integrated data acquired through the data-sharing agreement.
  • Cross-agency consent to share educational records. DHS identified a need to create a consent form to be used across all DHS program areas and that would allow for more collaboration among agencies serving school-age children.
  • Electronic access to education records. DHS built the technical infrastructure to display child-level education data received from PPS in the KIDS case management system.  
  • Best Interest Placement Tool (BIPT). DHS implemented a decision support tool to ensure that when a child needs to be placed in out-of-home care, DHS identifies placements that are in the best interest of that child and family. A home that is in their best interest will be the most family like setting, located in the child's community and school catchment area (if preferred), and willing to care for the child's identified behavioral challenges, mental health, and/or medical needs, etc. 
  • Training for child welfare staff. The Education Law Center has partnered with DHS to provide training for child welfare staff on education issues, including training on the State Education Screen.

To review additional information about the project and to review reports developed by the project, please visit the Allegheny, PA, Department of Human Services at http://www.alleghenycounty.us/dhs/research-education.aspx. The full site visit for this report will soon be posted on the website for Child Welfare Information Gateway at https://www.childwelfare.gov/management/funding/funding_sources/edcollaborations.cfm.

This project is funded by the Children's Bureau (90CO1076). This article is part of a series highlighting successful Children's Bureau grant-funded projects around the country, emerging from Children's Bureau site visits.

1 KIDS is the Pennsylvania Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System.

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