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Erie County Puts Cloud to Work for Children and Families

The Problem

The most important work for child welfare employees happens in the relationships with families and children. But too often, caseworkers experienced interruptions and impediments from building trust because of a paper-based system.

The often-cited problems with paper-based, manual processes were all too familiar to caseworkers in Erie County, Pennsylvania.

Here were some common scenarios:

  • Running out of forms. Caseworkers who ran out of an important document while meeting with a family needed to drive back to the office to pick up more.
  • Emergencies. In the event of an emergency, employees essentially had three courses of action that all led to delays: They stop what they’re doing to obtain the necessary paperwork at the office, wait for another staff member to bring it to them or forget about the paperwork and deal with the emergency first, only to be required to make another visit after the emergency.
  • Correcting mistakes. If there were errors within a file, caseworkers had to go into the office to fix them. If a file was misplaced, employees had to manually search through each one to locate the correct document.
  • Dark data. Let’s say a caseworker needed to place a child into a kinship home, or the care of a relative. To find these homes, the caseworker had to look through an incredible volume of paperwork — written narratives, emails, health records, court records and more — to identify a name. This was otherwise known as “dark data,” or hidden information that was unable to be used for decision-making.

All of these hold-ups could delay processes such as adoption by more than a month, said Michael Whitney, Administrator of Intake and Placement Services at the county’s Office of Children and Youth. The agency desperately needed a more efficient flow for caseworkers in the field.

The Solution

Digital Case Management

Here’s where the profound impact of a cloud-based tool came in.

The agency digitized and migrated necessary files and forms to the cloud, meaning wherever caseworkers had a device and an internet connection, they could access the paperwork they needed.

  • No more running out of paper forms.
  • In the event of an emergency, employees have near-
  • instant access to necessary documents.
  • Even if files get misplaced, employees can use keywords to easily search for them in the system.
  • If there are mistakes, caseworkers can update information in the app without having to drive back to the office.

Dark data came to light through the system’s ability to automatically detect information such as names from any file. The county’s cloud-based tool even provides a separate, regularly updated list of kinship homes that caseworkers can access at their fingertips.

Using the cloud was not just about digitizing paper, but making the whole process more efficient and productive for employees. From forms, historical family documents, court orders, service plans and more, caseworkers don’t have to be tied to a physical office in order to serve families and remain compliant with laws, policies and protocols.

“In our line of work, a more efficient and mobile workforce can lead to more time with the families we serve,”Whitney said. “More time can allow for a deeper dive into the issues the family is dealing with and potentially prevent any future harm from occurring to the children.”

The cloud has become pervasively mission-critical for the agency. Take it away, and it would “disrupt the entire organization’s ability to operate,” Whitney said.

The agency is continuing to discover ways to make work more efficient through the cloud. In the near future, it hopes to automate certain workflows to remove unnecessary redundancies, such as data entry. If a caseworker enters information once, the agency wants to be able to automatically populate that data for other forms, documents and workflows.

“We also envision a world in which we can build a complete picture of a person’s history with services,” Whitney said. That includes mental health services, medications, work history and diagnosis history. A complete picture would enable employees to provide the best care and services for an individual.

“We have a long way to go, but we are embracing more each day,” Whitney said.

3 Takeaways

Don’t just digitize forms. Think about the whole process. The agency seeks ways to modernize its workflows and protocols first to fully take advantage of cloud-based technology.

Don’t skimp on training. Employees need to become familiar with cloud-based tools. Some may remain comfortable with traditional workflows, so don’t forget about the importance of change management.

Think in terms of mission. Get excited about the impact of cloud-powered efficiencies for your mission. The main mission impact the agency experienced was increased time in building trust with families and children. What mission impacts can you see for your agency?  

This article appears in our guide, “Why Cloud Matters to You: A Reality Check.” To learn more about why cloud isn’t just the bailiwick of IT anymore, download the guide.

Photo by Pixabay at pexels.com

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