Efforts to create data sharing began in late 2012 as part of the Children’s Court Improvement Commission’s Court Improvement Project (CIP) Strategic Plan. Representatives from the NM Public Education Department (PED), the NM Children, Youth, and Families Department (CYFD), and the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) participated. These three agencies participate in an MOU and Data Governance Agreement intended to provide secure and authorized access to education, child welfare, and juvenile justice data for research and evaluation purposes. The Governance Agreement recognizes and honors the data governance structures of the Participating Agencies and in no way intends to supersede them.
The goal is as follows:
- To institutionalize the routine exchange of data between agencies that would be de-identified and aggregated to describe the educational outcomes of children and youth in the child welfare and/or juvenile justice systems
Casey Family Programs generously stepped up to provide the funding for the analysis and reporting of results.
The Research Design
The framework for ongoing efforts is outlined in the Data Plan. The Plan calls for a comparative research design where a number of data elements are selected and vetted for inclusion in the model.
The overall research design is intended to answer a number of research questions formatted as:
- Are there different educational outcomes when comparing children and youth in protective services, children and youth in juvenile justice services, and children and youth in public schools statewide?
There are essentially three categories of data elements: (1) identification and demographic items required to match cases across data systems that the Children, Youth, and Families Department (CYFD) provides to the Public Education Department (PED); (2) data elements from CYFD that describe child/case characteristics; and (3) education outcome data elements from the PED STARS system that address involvement in special services; mobility; retention and graduation; attendance, enrollment, and truancy; disciplinary infractions and response; and testing and assessment.
Local Response was launched in response to efforts at the state level to create more or less “real time access” for authorized persons to school records of individual children and youth in the Protective Services system and Juvenile Justice system. Initially the idea was to create access to the NM Public Education Department’s STARS data system. However it turned out that STARS was updated only two to three times per year and did not include the information necessary for case management. The information needed is at the local level and Protective Services workers (through the Uninterrupted Scholars Act) and Juvenile Probation Officers (through releases signed by parents/guardians) sought to improve their access as well as explore opportunities to enhance relationships with local districts and schools. The goal never changed: to improve education outcomes for juvenile justice involved and protective services involved students.
Localized Efforts meetings were conducted in eight counties in New Mexico which included Chaves, Otero, Sandoval, San Miguel, Bernalillo, Dona Ana, San Juan and Valencia Counties. These meetings were convened by the local District Court Judge and included representatives from local child welfare, juvenile justice and school professionals. The purpose of the meetings was to talk about ways we might work together and how we might better share information to the extent allowable under federal and state law, to improve outcomes for school-age children and young people in the child welfare and/or juvenile justice systems.
In general we confirmed what we already know: systemic changes are always slow, even when there is general agreement that such changes are needed. When four different systems are involved (protective services, juvenile justice services, the educational system, and the courts), it can take even longer. However, follow-up discussions with participants of the Local Response meetings revealed that some changes are, in fact, happening. Some of these changes had been considered and perhaps even begun in some situations, and the Local Response meeting helped push the initiative along. Other changes involved trying some new, innovative approaches with the intention of expanding these new approaches over time. Overall, working relationships were forged and strengthened and there is consensus that the Local Response meetings were more than worthwhile.