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UAlbany Graduate Student Seeks to Improve Foster Care System through Improved Data Flow

Amanda Kronen, a second-year graduate student in the School of Social Welfare, credits her UAlbany undergraduate education with expanding her options and her experience as an honors English major with helping her become a critical thinker. (Photo by Mark Schmidt)

ALBANY, N.Y. (Oct. 5, 2011) -- University at Albany graduate student Amanda Kronen wants to improve the foster care system. To do so, the Marietta, N.Y., native believes it is important to look beyond to the bigger picture. Kronen, a second-year clinical Master of Social Work (MSW) student, is looking at the intersection of social work and information delivery.

For some, it would seem these two subjects have little in common. Yet Kronen, who grew up in a town so small it did not have a McDonald’s, is now working on ways to fit together foster care and improved information flows across levels of government, service providers, and youth.

“Simply put, we are working to get data flows to function at their full potential and to provide good information to those who need it,” said Kronen, a graduate assistant at the Center for Technology in Government (CTG).

This past summer, Kronen was part of a four-person team that went to Washington, D.C., to attend the 2011 National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD) technical assistance meeting. This is a national effort to collect data about the independent living services provided to youth in foster care. The project offers an opportunity for youth to provide basic information about their employment, education, health care situation, and other services received. CTG, in partnership with the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS), is working on the portion of the NYTD project that collects data on youth turning 17 while in care in New York state.

“Amanda brings to CTG an indepth knowledge of the foster care system. Having worked and studied in this area, she provides valuable insight into the everyday work practices of foster care workers,” said Natalie Helbig, senior program associate at CTG. “By understanding information flows at this level, we will gain a better sense of the challenges and opportunities improved information flows can have on front-line workers and youth.”

Improving the collection and flow of data

While agencies are willing to collect and share information, there are challenges to doing so effectively, according to Kronen. Her work with the NYTD project has shown that handing down a federal mandate on data collection is not a turn-key process, and it can’t be implemented the same way in every state. New York shares some difficulties with states around the country, yet also faces some unique challenges to collecting data directly from youth.

“This means that some areas of service are going to have to sacrifice in order to achieve a required result. It’s not about lack of trying on the ground level with service providers; it’s about several levels of bureaucratic structure working against themselves,” said Kronen.

A UAlbany Education Provides Options

The former honors English major and Presidential Scholar credits her UAlbany undergraduate education with giving her options.

“The English department really helped me become a critical thinker in the best sense of the term…I did not graduate knowing exactly what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, but I had a direction and real ability to pursue a variety of interests. I think the greatest thing that happened while I was at UAlbany was so much of it was unexpected and unplanned, and yet it became everything I needed,” said Kronen.

Two of her undergraduate experiences -- studying abroad in China and presenting at an undergraduate research conference -- left a “powerful impression” on Kronen. Her advice to new students: “Don’t have a plan beyond being willing to expand the boundaries of the usual educational path, and see where it takes you.”

Kronen credits her work at CTG with the National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD) project in enabling her to get a sense of the larger issues concerning foster care right now in New York state.  

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