To use data for good, we need good data

Something big is about to happen.

It has been hotly anticipated, long-awaited, and is sure to please fans and followers when it comes out later this month.

No, I’m not talking about the 2019 Kids Count in Michigan Data Book (although I probably should be!). “Avengers: Endgame” will hit theaters on April 26 and has the superhero-obsessed breaking presale ticket records and planning their costumes for the big night.

From “Black Panther” to “Wonder Woman,” super-flicks have become a summer staple, with millions flocking to cool theaters to watch good triumph over evil in ever-more visually stunning ways. After “Avengers” will come “Dark Phoenix,” “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” and “The New Mutants” to round out the season.

Here at the League, we know that there are real, everyday superheroes across the state. We lift up the work of those superheroes and try to put our own abilities to the test for Michigan’s kids and families. We even have a bit of our own super-motto, which may or may not also be our guest WiFi password: “data for good.”

Like many advocates across the state, we rely on accurate and reliable data to push for positive change.

That’s why two recent news stories have us worried.

An independent assessment of the state’s Child Welfare Information System (MiSACWIS) revealed “persistent and significant defects” that are hurting caseworkers and the families and children they serve. Users in all 83 Michigan counties have relied on MiSACWIS since 2014 for investigation and case management of abuse and neglect claims, foster care management, and other services. The assessment found that workers have reported being unable to save information and correct errors, document and close cases in a timely manner, and make or change the placement of a child. Even more troubling, the report found that system errors are impacting data quality and delaying necessary services for families.

While the independent report recommended an entirely new system, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has until June 27 to decide what to do next. According to data for fiscal year 2017, almost 250,000 children were in investigated families, with over 41,000 confirmed victims of abuse or neglect. There were 11,209 children in out-of-home care due to abuse and/or neglect, and the number of children involved in the child welfare system has been increasing in recent years.

Services and care for those children are at stake, and an immediate and comprehensive fix to the system is necessary.

In education news: This month, eighth-graders will take the PSAT 8/9 instead of the M-STEP test for English Language Arts and math. Testing for M-STEP only began in 2015 with four years of data collected so far. Little progress has been made, with over two-thirds of eighth-graders still not meeting proficiency in math statewide. By changing the test after such a short time, though, it becomes more difficult to track whether or not our education system is improving for students. We need consistent data from year to year to be able to identify problems and possibilities.

It really is simple: In order to use “data for good,” we need access to “good data.” Many of my days are focused on making sure the numbers we provide through Kids Count are both accurate and reliable over time, so advocates have the best information to push for change. Those efforts only go so far if they are hindered by bad policies.

We at the League will continue to watch out and advocate for the best interest of Michigan kids, including around data collection and reporting. We need to make sure our data collection systems are working correctly, fixing problems instead of contributing to them. We need transparency in how we collect and report data, with the goal to measure our progress honestly.

Our kids are counting on us–just like we count on Captain Marvel, the Black Panther, and Spider-Man–to use our powers for good.

Parker James is Kids Count research associate at the Michigan League for Public Policy.


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