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Remote Connection Is an Essential Technology for Child Welfare

Child welfare and Health and Human Services (HHS) agencies have long had growing demands on their time and resources from clients, social workers, caseworkers, clerical staff, lawyers and the community at large. There are also the responsibilities of recruiting new staff, improving employee retention and ensuring compliance with local, state and federal mandates.

Additionally, mandates and priorities are constantly changing, increasing the effort required by agencies. Reductions in tax revenue also indicate agencies might need to lay off or furlough workers, causing additional strain on the remaining workers to handle even more complex cases, which may cause more stress and possibly more turnover.

Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic demanded that child welfare agencies quickly pivot to support telework, and enable people to connect and share important information in new and different ways. Other public health or natural disaster crises, such as the opioid crisis and significant weather events, only emphasize the need for connecting remotely in this field.

“Existing broad challenges have been illuminated by the current landscape,” said Rich Bowlen, Vice President/Evangelist, Child Welfare at Northwoods. “Things we’ve long been concerned about in the field in terms of technology limitations are now true challenges.”

“States and local jurisdictions never really had child welfare systems that were designed to support good child welfare practices,” said Stuart Venzke, Health and Human Services Executive at Amazon Web Services (AWS) State and Local Government. “These systems were designed instead to collect information for federal reporting purposes. But what they weren’t designed for was actually to help workers, particularly child welfare workers in the field, to make better decisions, and drive better outcomes.”

The pandemic has only exposed and exacerbated challenges to good child welfare practices.

The Solution: Investing in Essential Technology for Remote Connection

Agencies must invest in tools and essential technology now to prepare for an expected surge in child welfare cases, as well as future public health or emergency crises. After COVID-19, reports of abuse or neglect are expected to increase when more mandated reporters have increased access to children.

These agencies must implement the right technology to mobilize child welfare caseworkers so they can work from anywhere. This means utilizing software that has web and mobile components; artificial intelligence (AI) elements to automatically analyze case content to quickly understand critical information from the past and present; and insight into specific, detailed information related to a particular person, case or topic.

“We need the right technology so that the insights and expertise of experienced caseworkers can be leveraged across lots of families and truly help those most in need,” said Venzke. For caseworkers in child welfare who have long been hamstrung instead of empowered by their platforms, the right technology must have the following elements:

  • A web application that allows anyone in the agency to access all case content from anywhere
  • A mobile application, optimized for when workers are in the field engaging with families, that automatically syncs newly collected case content
  • The ability to leverage the power of big data and the information and volumes of case records they already have to make well-informed, more confident decisions
  • Natural language processing and text analytics tools that empower workers to learn about key topics, people and events in a case to make informed decisions about safety
  • Instant access to case content from anywhere
  • The ability for content to be contributed from anywhere regardless of connectivity
  • The ability for caseworkers and supervisors to share documents, photos and videos, and hand off work
  • Access to digital forms when working remotely regardless of connectivity

This article is an excerpt from GovLoop’s recent report, “Investing in Essential Technology and Remote Connection for Child Welfare.” Download the full report here.

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