New Casey Web Tool May Transform Case Management in Child Welfare

Posted January 24, 2011
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog newcaseywebtool 2011

When social work­ers from Casey Fam­i­ly Ser­vices’ Mass­a­chu­setts Divi­sion received a refer­ral from the State Depart­ment of Chil­dren and Fam­i­lies for 15-year-old Car­la,* they com­piled the usu­al data: fam­i­ly his­to­ry, fos­ter care place­ments, spe­cial needs, school per­for­mance, health, impor­tant con­nec­tions, and contacts.
What made this process dif­fer­ent is that instead of hav­ing to sort through and com­plete moun­tains of cum­ber­some records to piece togeth­er the infor­ma­tion they need­ed, the social work­ers used a new, web-based tool that put all the key data at their fingertips.

They were using Case­book, an Inter­net-based appli­ca­tion that adopts some of the same social net­work­ing tools peo­ple use every day at home and at work to help child wel­fare pro­fes­sion­als record, cat­a­log, and com­mu­ni­cate com­pre­hen­sive infor­ma­tion vital in link­ing fos­ter youth to the most effec­tive and appro­pri­ate sources of help—and even to per­ma­nent, lov­ing families.

The phi­los­o­phy behind Case­book is that these 21st cen­tu­ry tech­nolo­gies have the poten­tial to dra­mat­i­cal­ly improve out­comes for vul­ner­a­ble fam­i­lies. Says Kath­leen Feely, the Casey Foundation’s vice pres­i­dent for inno­va­tions, We believe the advent of new tech­nolo­gies in social net­work­ing and tools for ana­lyz­ing data, which have proven their val­ue in the enter­tain­ment and con­sumer prod­ucts indus­tries as well as in pub­lic health and emer­gency response, will help resolve many of the prob­lems and gaps in the cur­rent child wel­fare report­ing systems.”

In Carla’s case, the quick access to infor­ma­tion that Case­book provided—including his­to­ries of two of her siblings—enabled Casey social work­ers to work with the state to help Car­la recon­nect with her birth moth­er and siblings.

Case­book allowed us to eas­i­ly access key infor­ma­tion on Carla’s two sib­lings we had already worked with, to see the con­nec­tions they already had and where they were, and to have all that infor­ma­tion with­out start­ing from scratch,” notes Sheila Fitzger­ald, a team leader in Casey Fam­i­ly Ser­vices’ Mass­a­chu­setts Divi­sion. Being able to build those bonds and strength­en those rela­tion­ships has tak­en this case in a total­ly dif­fer­ent direc­tion. And Car­la is very hap­py because she now has reg­u­lar, con­sis­tent con­tact with her moth­er and sisters.”

The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s sys­tem reform work has under­scored the impor­tance of using accu­rate, time­ly, and com­pa­ra­ble data to make sound deci­sions about vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren and families.

But unfor­tu­nate­ly, all too often case­work­ers and super­vi­sors must make crit­i­cal, life-shap­ing deci­sions based on the frag­ment­ed, inac­cu­rate, and out-of-date infor­ma­tion that state child wel­fare sys­tems and their part­ner orga­ni­za­tions report. At the same time, man­agers lack the abil­i­ty to spot trends, deploy ser­vices, allo­cate funds effec­tive­ly, and eas­i­ly access data that would help improve per­for­mance across jurisdictions.

The infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy sys­tems wide­ly used across state child wel­fare agen­cies were designed to help states com­ply with fed­er­al fis­cal and pro­gram report­ing. But experts say these sys­tems are tremen­dous­ly time-con­sum­ing for work­ers and do not pro­vide data or soft­ware of suf­fi­cient qual­i­ty to sup­port effec­tive, coor­di­nat­ed deci­sion-mak­ing that fac­tors in fam­i­ly his­to­ry and context.

Case­book uses web 2.0 tech­nolo­gies to solve these prob­lems. For exam­ple, Case­book has tools that enable work­ers to com­pile a rich case his­to­ry behind the scenes, help­ing new team mem­bers get up to speed imme­di­ate­ly. Auto­mat­ic alerts, reminders, and check­points keep case man­age­ment on track, encour­ag­ing col­lec­tive prob­lem-solv­ing and infor­ma­tion shar­ing. The expec­ta­tion is that these improve­ments will free up staff to spend more time with clients.

Unlike pre­vi­ous sys­tems, Case­book makes it pos­si­ble to com­mu­ni­cate and col­lab­o­rate with an extend­ed team—a hall­mark of Casey’s approach—including ser­vice providers, com­mu­ni­ty-based orga­ni­za­tions, and key con­tacts, such as teach­ers, coun­selors, nurs­es, and physicians.

Anoth­er big lim­i­ta­tion of cur­rent case man­age­ment sys­tems is that they are not fam­i­ly-cen­tric, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for case­work­ers to think about the fam­i­ly as a whole and make deci­sions ground­ed in fam­i­ly needs, strengths, and rela­tion­ships,” says Feely. Cur­rent sys­tems may, for exam­ple, call a caseworker’s atten­tion to an over­due admin­is­tra­tive task, but not alert them to a pos­si­bly sig­nif­i­cant change in fam­i­ly circumstances.

This lack of empha­sis on the fam­i­ly makes it hard to paint a clear, long-term pic­ture of fam­i­ly his­to­ry, mon­i­tor progress toward per­ma­nence, track health and edu­ca­tion out­comes, or under­stand which com­bi­na­tions of ser­vices and sup­ports might work best.”

Some of Casebook’s key fea­tures designed to sup­port case­work­ers and improve out­comes include:

  • Cre­at­ing net­work con­nec­tions to tap vital knowl­edge about youth, fam­i­lies, and their cir­cles of support; 
  • Track­ing the family’s involve­ment with oth­er agencies;
  • Using visu­al tools such as inter­ac­tive time­lines to make sense of what is hap­pen­ing with fam­i­lies as it happens;
  • Mak­ing case deci­sions more trans­par­ent and inclu­sive, with an empha­sis on team and fam­i­ly involvement;
  • Main­tain­ing ser­vice plans as liv­ing doc­u­ments that reflect the com­bined insights of every­one involved in the child’s case;
  • Telling the case sto­ry and pro­vid­ing a full clin­i­cal pic­ture by blend­ing nar­ra­tive with struc­tured case his­to­ry; and
  • Shar­ing best prac­tice guide­lines and relat­ed research to pro­mote the most effec­tive action steps.

In addi­tion, while fed­er­al and state gov­ern­ments have invest­ed over $2.8 bil­lion in the exist­ing infor­ma­tion sys­tems to date, esti­mates sug­gest that Case­book could cost sub­stan­tial­ly less to build. And because it is web-based it would be eas­i­er and cheap­er to main­tain and update.

Rolling Out Casebook

Case Com­mons, a sub­sidiary of the Foun­da­tion cre­at­ed to design and build Case­book, has been pilot­ing Case­book with Casey Fam­i­ly Ser­vices, its direct ser­vices agency, since spring 2010 to ensure that it fits the needs and work styles of actu­al prac­ti­tion­ers. In addi­tion to Mass­a­chu­setts, Casey Fam­i­ly Ser­vices divi­sions in Con­necti­cut, Rhode Island, and Ver­mont already use Case­book. When Bal­ti­more, Maine, and New Hamp­shire are on board by ear­ly 2011, the Case­book team will sur­vey users and con­duct focus groups to iden­ti­fy ways to improve the system.

Fitzger­ald of the Mass­a­chu­setts Divi­sion par­tic­i­pat­ed in Case­book plan­ning meet­ings and was trained as one of four pow­er users,” mean­ing those who get addi­tion­al train­ing and serve as a resource in help­ing oth­er staff use Casebook.

It is much eas­i­er to fig­ure out where you need to nav­i­gate to put in infor­ma­tion, and it flows a lot bet­ter than the exist­ing sys­tem,” says Fitzger­ald. I can see every­thing my staff is doing on a case, and if I’ve approved a doc­u­ment, they can see that.

I look for­ward to the day when states are using it as well, so we can be on one sys­tem. That would be a beau­ti­ful thing.”

* not her real name

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