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A public policy blog from AEI
During my 20 years administering government social services programs in New York, I came to believe the day-to-day operations of government safety net programs can lead to less poverty and increased opportunity. Over the years, I have seen countless examples — in New York and across the country — of effective leaders making operational decisions which led to greater employment, less dependency, and stronger families and communities.
That is why I am particularly pleased with two recent publications that get deep into the operations of social services administration and point to solutions for hard problems.
The first is an “evidence tool kit” on data and integration which I wrote with my friends at the Evidence-Based Policymaking Collaborative at the Urban Institute. Much like a literal tool kit, this set of findings and recommendations about data access and integration is meant to be a guide for policymakers and program managers to improve social service delivery and ensure government efficiency. Bureaucrats like my former self need these tool kits for quick access to the government equivalent of wrenches and screwdrivers: specific guidance on how to improve access to data and encourage efficient data integration.
Jargon aside, these tools really can lead to serious change. It’s unfortunate that the documentation of these important tools can come across as a big snooze, especially for people who do not work in this field. But thankfully, we have Naomi Schaefer Riley’s recent piece, which compellingly makes the human case for how data may contain answers for improving child welfare. Child welfare refers to the set of programs (child protective services, foster care) which face the hardest dilemma in welfare policy: When should children be removed from their families? Frankly, we have much to improve upon in that area, especially with an ongoing opioid crisis increasing the number of children at risk of serious harm. Riley shows how data shared between government agencies can predict instances of child abuse and neglect, in order to more accurately identify which children need to be removed from their parents’ custody, and when.
Child welfare is just one field in which already-collected information tells us where we can spot problems and pinpoint solutions. My former New York City colleague Linda Gibbs and I described other applications in our guide for policymakers to unleash the power of administrative data. That document is also a slog for the uninitiated, which is why I am especially pleased that Riley has come to AEI to write about issues concerning struggling families. As an experienced journalist, she brings to the field writing ability most poverty experts (including me) do not have.
What I hope becomes clear through this work is that accessing and integrating information about how people live and where services are found inefficient is no trivial matter. It might not contain the grand solution to solving poverty — only big thinkers with big ideas can do that — but these small, behind-the-scenes steps toward better policy execution can make a significant difference.
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