California Adopts Innovative Tools to Improve Child Welfare Outcomes

Posted January 17, 2017, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Two technology-related nonprofits, both started with seed money from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, are gaining traction and recently began work in California. Case Commons and Kids Insight have been tapped to help improve the state’s capacity for using data to improve outcomes for children and families in the child welfare system.

Case Commons will develop an open-source digital service that will replace the intake function of the state’s 20-year-old computer system, used by child welfare professionals who are investigating allegations of abuse, neglect and exploitation. The new service will be easy to navigate and allow staff to record and access key information to make timely, informed decisions about child safety. It will use open-source software to promote flexibility and continuous improvement in system design, specifications and use.

Kids Insight, developer of the Treatment Outcome Package (TOP) for child welfare, is piloting its child well-being service — built on a validated child behavioral health assessment tool — in four California counties. The $3 million contract includes test runs in Los Angeles, Fresno, San Diego and Tuolumne counties. Developed with support from Casey and The Duke Endowment, TOP assesses and identifies changes in children’s social and emotional well-being. It incorporates the perspectives of children, caregivers and professionals and tracks the effectiveness of services provided by therapists, clinicians and others. It is being used by or introduced in 16 counties in these states and in Delaware.

“Technology can better support everyone from the front office to the front lines” of child welfare, says Kathleen Feely, Case Commons CEO, who for this project will partner with CGI, Natoma Technologies and Stanfield Systems.

Kids Insight President Dara Menashi notes a similar concern for user-friendly design. She recently told the Huffington Post: “The driving force behind all our development … is the idea that if caseworkers don’t find [the service] helpful they will not use it. We really want this tool to function within the way social workers and others have to work day-to-day on the ground.”

Case Commons and Kids Insight represent two early Casey investments in technological solutions that drive systems improvements and benefit children and families.

“Across the country, more and more state leaders are recognizing the need for innovative technology to drive better data, policy and practice,” says Patrick McCarthy, chair of the board of Case Commons and president and CEO of the Casey Foundation. “These are exciting times, as technology helps accelerate the transformation of human service systems.”

“We are demonstrating that investments in technology can really drive improvements for kids,” says Tracey Feild, director of Casey’s Child Welfare Strategy Group. “These approaches help individual kids. But they also give systems a muscle they haven’t had before. For looking at provider efficacy and examining child well-being across populations of kids, in TOP’s case. And, with Case Commons, for using the power of technology to help systems react quicker and make better decisions. These are important new tools for helping children and families fare better in their communities and in their interactions with child welfare systems.”