DHS News July 2013
New Form Promotes Sharing Across DHS to Help Schoolchildren
Data can produce “ah-ha” moments. The Clairton City School District is a case in point.
Until the DHS Office of Data Analysis, Research and Education (DARE) pulled together data about the district’s children, some details about their potential needs got lost in the mix.
For example, once DHS began to sift through data Clairton shared with the department, such as test scores, attendance and human service involvement of Clairton students, 26 children with IEPs for a diagnosis of mental retardation were found not to have been registered with the Office of Intellectual Disability. That meant that they might not be tracked to receive services outside of school or after graduation. Mary Figlar of OID provided outreach to school staff on how County services could assist them.
“All schools know their children, but by vetting the numbers, it paints a picture,” said Kathryn Collins, DARE analyst. She, fellow DARE analyst Emily Kulick and DARE Deputy Director Erin Dalton in May published a report on the Clairton district that examines statistics about children receiving human services.
To allow any data to be examined by DHS in Clairton or any other public school district has taken work by a wide variety of professionals - including educators, foundation representatives, education law experts, and DHS staffers – over at least five years.
The effort dates to an initiative that began with the Pittsburgh Public School District, where community leaders began brainstorming about how integrating education and human services data could improve education and well-being outcomes for those served by both systems.
The group knew that thousands of Pittsburgh students received DHS services and that the achievement gap between those students and those who did not receive services was evident. The mission became how to share student information between the district and DHS – grades, attendance, standardized test scores – in a legal, confidential manner to assist children.
With the help of a team of lawyers, a Memorandum of Understanding was developed to permit data-sharing between school districts and DHS. Most recently, a document called Consent to Release Educational Records is among what Emily, Kathryn and Education Liaison Samantha Murphy have been revising for DHS staff.
The consent works this way: Parents and certain others in the lives of children can sign a document that allows the child’s school district to share information with DHS. It remains in force until the child turns 18, as long as he or she stays in the district in which the form was generated.
If DHS shares data with the child’s school district, the consent can be uploaded into a computer system and the educational data (grades and attendance for example) can be instantly available to the direct services worker.
The consent achieves multiple goals, not the least of which is cutting paperwork, and thus staff time, at both the school district and in DHS offices, in getting necessary information. When a consent is in place, DHS workers have immediate access to a child’s education information, and that information can be shared with other DHS staff who may be working with the child.
Traditionally, workers in each office have to send consents to the district, where staff have to get them signed and compile the necessary info and mail it back to the requester – again and again. (Without a data-sharing agreement, consents still work in this manner.)
The revised DHS consent form, however, makes information-sharing a one-stop procedure whenever possible. Most importantly, the improved information flow means DHS staffers can help children more quickly.
“It helps us identify concerns early so that we can address them early,” Samantha said. “If, for instance, a caseworker can see attendance data for a child in foster care, he or she can say, ‘Hey, you’ve been missing school’ or ‘You’ve been going to school and your grades are awesome.’”
Data is shared internally via the confidential Key Information and Demographics Systems (KIDS) or Datavue Systems used by DHS.
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