Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Child abuse report: A clandestine correction from Every Child Matters


Sometime between 11:16am on October 26 and 5:00pm October 28, Every Child Matters finally got around to correcting its out-of-date, erroneous data on child welfare spending – the bad data that smeared reform efforts in Maine. Here at NCCPR, we're glad we were able to point ECM to the data they overlooked. But their clandestine correction doesn't go nearly far enough.

I can find nothing in the press release or the report, as they appear online, to indicate that the data were wrong in the first place and now have been corrected. So there is nothing to tell readers who saw the old data and may have gotten the wrong impression of their state to look again.

Did ECM send notices to all the reporters who did stories about the original reports – in particular the stories that highlighted a state's alleged performance in spending, to let them know the data were wrong so they could correct the information for readers? How about reporters who still may be working on such stories?

Did ECM notify people on its own e-mail list? I'm on that list and I have received no such notice. (Well, I was on that list; perhaps I've been purged.)

Worse, the data still suffer from an obvious flaw that ECM still does not disclose. The original source for these data makes clear that ten states could not supply information for certain categories of spending.

For example, in New York, individual counties and New York City run their own systems. But the researchers were unable to get a figure for local spending – and that's likely to be a lot of money.

For other states the missing amounts may be lower. But two of the states ECM now claims are in the bottom five for spending, Mississippi and Virginia, were able to supply only incomplete data to the researchers. So the rankings still may be wrong.

NCCPR also puts out a list using the same raw data (though we divide the spending totals by the number of impoverished children in each state, while ECM, oddly, uses the total population of children and adults; which is, of course, unfair to states with proportionately fewer children). But our list specifies which states provided incomplete data, and calls particular attention to the fact that the New York figure may be a significant underestimate. With ECM's huge budget and lavish spending on slick PR, is it really too much to ask that they achieve this level of accuracy as well?