Innovations in Child Welfare Technology

September 2015

This Policy Spotlight was written by guest author Case Commons.

Despite the rapid technological progress of recent decades, most government agencies have been unable to keep up with advances in technology to effectively service those most in need. As a result, society’s most vulnerable families and children are underserved due to outdated technology and case workers’ inability to access vital information. What’s more, the need for child welfare services is staggering. In 2013, nearly 679,000 children were victims of abuse and neglect, 1,400 of whom died as a result. Increasingly, caseworkers are being asked to do more with less.
 
While caseworkers are doing their best to serve these children, existing child welfare IT systems do not provide the data necessary to understand the various connections in a child’s life, as well as the trends and warning signs that ultimately save lives. As a result, caseworkers and supervisors have to make life-shaping decisions based on fragmented, inaccurate, and out-of-date information.
 
Just last month, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) initiated a key process to make it easier for states to update these outdated systems -- often built on 1990s technology -- and put better tools in the hands of caseworkers. ACF proposed new rules that would allow states the flexibility needed to build better, more innovative technology systems, and emphasize collecting and using quality data to help improve services.
 
One organization that has been leading the way for this change is Case Commons. Case Commons is a unique non-profit, launched and supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, that has developed Casebook, a state-of-the-art case management platform for child welfare agencies. Casebook utilizes the power of cloud-based, fully mobile technology to deliver an integrated, data-driven system that allows workers to make good decisions, manage their time more effectively, and provide more support to the children and families they serve.
 
Modern products, like Casebook, are designed based on caseworker practice in order to support the unique challenges and responsibilities of the child welfare space. While some agencies are forced to use multiple, often disjointed, systems and datasets, new products can integrate them in a central location for targeted outcomes. Casebook is designed specifically to support caseworkers by giving them valuable, up-to-the-minute information to guide their decisions, along with tools that make it easier to follow best practices to improve outcomes for kids and families. Behind Casebook is a group of leading UX designers and software developers, partnered with experts in the child welfare space, and supported by the Casey Foundation.
 
Further, Casebook’s unique person-based model collects and represents a child’s experience in care over time. In this way, important service and placement information keeps the focus on the child’s experience in care and combats the potential for a child to be “lost in the numbers.”
 
In 2010, Case Commons partnered with the state of Indiana to launch the first state-wide implementation of Casebook. Through a truly user-centered and iterative development process, a modern technology system was implemented with the goals and initiatives of the child welfare arena in mind. In two short years, the program was fully operational, assisting 3,600 caseworkers serving more than 21,000 children with open cases across the state.
 
While there is wide recognition of the difficult work that child welfare caseworkers do, much more needs to be done to make sure they have the tools they need to be effective. Innovative and proven technology is essential to more effectively protect our most vulnerable families and children. Educating government officials can play a key role in helping to protect children and families in your states.
 
State legislators can further help bring innovative technology that solves real problems to their states by working to raise awareness of the technological deficits that exist and calling for technology that improves child welfare while saving money in the long term through cost savings and improved services.
 
ACF’s proposed rules are a strong step towards improving child welfare services, but continued support at the state level is needed to bring this technology to those who need it most.
 
To learn more about how technology can help improve child welfare services in your state, visit the Case Commons website.