Next Steps for Using Cognitive Computing to Transform Child Welfare

Recently GovLoop’s Chris Dorobek hosted an interactive chat with, Daniel Stein, Co-founder of the Stewards of Change Institute, Martin Duggan, Director of Social Programs of IBM Watson Health, and Lana Rees, Executive Director of the Office of Children and Youth of Erie County, Pennsylvania, to discuss how cognitive computing can improve the child welfare system.

Much of the truly valuable data collected by the social worker is largely qualitative field notes. This makes it hard to aggregate and identify trends and potential best practices. However, the new era of cognitive computing makes analysis of language possible. This means that an automated system can read caseworkers field notes, aggregate them and deliver evidence based recommendations. Ultimately, cognitive computing has the potential to revolutionize social work, making processes more efficient and effective and dramatically improving outcomes.

A New Type of Social Worker

In order to transform the child welfare system, the role of caseworker must be reimagined. Currently, social workers spend countless hours filing and filling out paperwork to keep case histories accurate and up to date. This takes them out of the field and away from their assigned families. Capabilities available with cognitive technology, such as natural language processing, can allow caseworkers to spend less time in the office and more time pursuing good outcomes with their families.

Cognitive computing allows for aggregation of data from case files and field notes and can identify emerging trends not previously visible. It can also provide new insights and offer recommendations based on extensive data sets from which the case worker can make better decisions.

Task prioritization, case information monitoring, case and personal safety risk calculations, skill development curriculum, context aware reminders, resource searches, and voice-to-text and text-to-voice interactions between people and systems are critical in redefining the role of social worker.

What exactly does the future of social work look like in practice? Take Alissa, a hypothetical caseworker for a state child welfare agency, for example. She starts her day looking at her to-do list, which is created by her agency’s cognitive computing enabled case-management system.  It that gathers information from her calendar and email and tells her a home visit with a client is a high priority.

While Alissa is formulating her plan for the visit, the system analyzes a broad array of information about the family and offers recommendations for the visit. One of these recommendations is that Alissa brings a security officer with her because the mother’s former abusive boyfriend was just released from jail.

Finally, Alissa calls her agency’s automated training system which suggests a few training modules that will likely produce the best outcomes in this particular case.

The Road Ahead

The potential of these capabilities is significant but cannot be realized without collaboration across sectors. Suggested approaches moving forward include:

  • Early adopters/entrepreneurs from the nonprofit community choosing programs to pilot in collaboration with other sectors to improve results and gain competitive advantage.
  • Fostering public-private partnerships to accelerate the cycle time to pilot, refine solutions. Partners could include foundations, industry advocates and/or businesses seeking innovative solutions and market advantage.
  • Involving universities, philanthropy, nonprofits and/or government in funding and testing more complex research and applications that could then be reused more broadly.
  • Encouraging competitive federal grants to fund the testing of cognitive technology tools.

Cognitive computing has the potential to change lives and, with the right partnerships and innovative leaders, transforming the role of social workers is attainable. For more information watch the on-demand version of the socialcast here.


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