Disparity and Disproportionality

Data & Information Management

An effective information management system can ensure that relevant data are collected to identify 

the presence of disparities and disproportionality in the public child welfare system. Data and 

information provide the basis for understanding this pervasive issue

-- a situation when a particular racial/ethnic group of children are represented at 

disproportionately higher rates than those from other groups or the apparent inequity in the 

provision of services which produces disparities. Data are analyzed and mined to alert supervisors 

and leaders to other differential impacts resulting from disparities and disproportionality.


For exam p le – in recent years, m o re scrutiny has been g iven to the im pact on the in creasing 

num ber o f A frican Am e rican children entering the foster care system . U nderstanding th is 

issue requires e ffe c tive and e ffic ien t in fo rm a tio n m anagem ent system s that p rom o te 

accurate and valid data collection on characteristics (e .g . e thn ic ity regarding reunification 

and adoptions).


Information management is a critical component in examining disparities and disproportionality. One 

way information management is used to address this issue involves the impact at various decision 

points when a child or family is first introduced to the public child welfare system. Those 

decisions points include: whether a report is made, whether it is substantiated, if the child is 

removed from the home or does the family qualify for in-home services - all decisions that 

ultimately impact the outcome for this particular child or family.


As agencies develop or upgrade information management systems, staff that are working to eliminate 

disparities and reduce disproportionality can play an integral role. They provide a better 

understanding about the use of data collected related to disparities and disproportionality as well 

as ideas about how to collect the appropriate data. During various phases of this process, these 

staff members are also essential in communicating and building agency-wide support for the 

importance of this work. A highly effective agency will be empowered in using data to inform 

decision-making rather than functioning in an environment where data are seen as the “thing” that 

will reveal bad information about performance -- particularly when addressing key but controversial 

topics such as disparities and disproportionality.


Collection of data is imperative to understanding the problem and evaluating how to address 

disparities and disproportionality. In important ways, data form the most powerful tool in first 

identifying this issue and then tackling it. A cautionary note regarding this issue is the notion 

that some agencies may not systematically focus on capturing certain types of data because of a 

general feeling of being “color blind.” The Reducing Disparities and Eliminating Disproportionality 

guidance identifies a variety of indicators to examine before determining to what extent an agency 

is experiencing disparity and/or disproportionality. It is important to note that the presence of 

either does not necessarily equate to ineffective or unsuccessful processes, procedures or 


Information management systems are most effective when they provide leaders and staff with critical 

data and analysis capabilities to identify client characteristics, report quantitative and 

qualitative analysis, monitor agency performance and measure



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