States have long collected child welfare data from a variety of sources. Of course, the ability to regularly track, categorize, and analyze data varies from agency to agency, particularly as it relates to obtaining information about safety, permanency, and well-being for children. In recent years, though, the advantages of using data have become more apparent to those who use data extensively in managing their organizations. Both quantitative and qualitative data provide evidence to help take the emotion and guesswork out of decisions that can be difficult. Data from multiple sources can help an agency define its current status versus its desired status; identify its strengths, needs, and trends; and set strategic priorities for reaching desired goals and improving outcomes.
The process of turning data into meaningful information that can be used to make decisions is data analysis, sometimes called analytics. Analytics has become a critical component of managing performance, which normally involves setting goals, monitoring progress toward meeting the goals through use of specific measures, and making necessary adjustments along the way to improve performance. Developing an “analytics mindset” is a process that evolves over time as staff become more accustomed to managing by data. Increasing staff and stakeholder access to data is a crucial element of this mindset.