Use data to support responsive programs & policy
Data are an essential tool for achieving many of the recommendations in this plan. Data can be used to raise awareness of adolescent health issues, to plan program and service delivery, and to formulate policy at the state and local levels. Although the volume of data generated through research, evaluation, and program monitoring is tremendous, there are several issues that limit the use of these data.
There is a lack of comparability in data elements collected by different agencies and programs. For example, some programs may track use of any illicit drug, whereas others may track use of several specific drugs. Inconsistencies such as this make it difficult to obtain an accurate picture of the needs of youth and the impact of programs and policies. In order to address this issue, the Department of Health Services, Maternal and Child Health Branch and the Family Health Outcomes Project at UCSF are developing the technical capacity within local Maternal, Child, and Adolescent Health programs to collect a core set of data elements for the comprehensive assessment of youth needs. Efforts such as this must be expanded to improve the consistency of data collection.
Lack of access to data on individual clients is a major obstacle to the development of effective, integrated services. Innovative efforts are needed to enable agencies serving the same youth to share relevant information about their clients without violating confidentiality. CATS (Common Application Transaction System) projects in several counties that enable clients to apply for multiple state programs through a single application have made progress in developing systems for maintaining client confidentiality. These models must be expanded to service providers at the local level.
Finally, there is much room for improvement in the use of existing data. At both the state and local levels, data often remain buried in databases, reports, or research articles rather than being brought to the attention of policymakers. To more effectively shape programmatic and policy decisions, data must be presented in clear and compelling formats that the public and policymakers can understand.
1. Increase standardization of data collected by state departments
- Provide financial and/or human resources to departments to 1) identify the most useful outcome indicators for tracking adolescent health, 2) identify gaps in existing data collection systems, and 3) develop strategies for filling these gaps.
- Standardize definitions of indicators (e.g., special health care needs, abuse of alcohol, truancy), and identify a set of required core indicators that each department must collect on the youth it serves. This work should build on existing efforts in the child health arena (e.g., Family Health Outcomes Project, the Child Health Indicators Taskforce).
- Consolidate program evaluation and reporting for state-funded programs and base evaluations on standardized data definitions and measures. When possible, rely on existing instruments such as the California Healthy Kids Survey.
2. Improve the utility of data for program and policy development
- Explore long-term opportunities for individual-level data sharing that would make possible an integrated case management system without violating confidentiality.
- Create a “child and adolescent health report card” that captures both system and outcome indicators and provides a mechanism for accountability.
- Provide technical assistance to counties and communities to assist them in using data to drive changes in service delivery and health policy.
- Collect statewide data on indicators of youth resiliency and supportive environments.
- Assess the impact of youth development interventions on improved health outcomes and reductions in risk behaviors.