This article is part of a series on the Comprehensive Child Welfare Information System (CCWIS), which states can build with federal funding help to replace an antiquated data and management process.
When it comes to modernizing daily processes and approaches via new technology, there will always be a collection of disconnections from what you practiced in the past and seek to improve in the future. A truly successful technology platform must be able to mirror and guide every aspect of your operations, and this is not an easy task. Thus, when it comes to switching after 20 years of the Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System (SACWIS) to a new Comprehensive Child Welfare Information System (CCWIS), one can only expect the hurdles will be magnified exponentially, and require deep introspection as to what are your wishes and fixes you hope to achieve. To maximize your efforts, I suggest starting with a youth-focused approach.
Child welfare can benefit greatly by first focusing on improving how we currently assess, monitor and care for kids as their path slowly progresses through the systems of care. But by working smart and not just hard, such efforts can be simultaneously focused on improving how we better support and ensure the safety of the workforce providing such care. With the CCWISand the Family First Prevention Services Act legislation now in motion, there is no time like the present to figure out the technology needed to help traverse these multiple needs.
Which Way Do I Go?
I suspect if you are in information technology (IT) or data management, you probably wish for a system to use the high quality CCWIS data to produce automated monthly, quarterly and annual accountability reports. For administrators, you might wish for more transparency and the ability to better monitor efforts across your agencies. Or maybe you wish for a way to be automatically informed about an unusual incident, rather than hearing about it on the local news. Poof, your wishes are granted, if you adopt the right CCWIS solution.
If you are a case manager or social worker, you might wish for a system to keep a constant pulse on each youth under your supervision, capture audio and video evidence, and enter notes from the field via talk-to-text. And maybe as a magistrate or clinician, you wish for a magical system to provide the information you need in real-time for each youth so you could quickly analyze circumstances and determine the best path forward.
There are a lot of different wishes and fixes across your systems of care that so many have dreamed about for decades. And if you are going to adopt a new CCWIS, why not implement a solution that works to support the daily needs of every role performed across your workforce? The only adjective in the CCWIS acronym is comprehensive, and case management is truly a comprehensive systemic process that typically spans supporting a youth for months, if not years across the systems of care.
What Else Do You Need
To work smart, let’s think about what you might need in a year from now. What would you want your magic wand to produce if you are going to need this comprehensive system to simultaneously manage CCWIS and guide the 12 months of in-home Family First Act services expected, when you no longer can use your group homes for more than two weeks and you still have a shortage of foster homes?
Because if your state is going to approve budgets for new CCWIS technology, I suggest you settle for nothing less than a solution which is actually comprehensive enough to solve nearly all of your existing and future needs. To do this, let’s next imagine what your workforce will need in order to properly address the circumstances each family and youth are experiencing, and meanwhile actually monitor and document the short- and long-term beneficial outcomes such services are producing.
One current process in need of improvement, is having case workers with limited experience carry the lion’s share of the burden to administer the initial risk and safety assessments, and make quick placement decisions. With an admirable focus on being safe and not sorry, these Structured Decision Model (SDM) tools with limited evidence of validity, however, tend to lead to children quite often being removed from their home. As a result, many states experiencing a massive increase of Child Protective Services (CPS) calls due to the opioid addiction are experiencing major spikes in the number of kids being placed into foster care.
Safety is of course paramount. But with a shortage of available foster home beds and a need for more foster parents, as well as the forthcoming Family First Act limiting the use of large group homes, this process is one such fix in need of attention. Risk and safety assessments are critical and will continue to be a crucial part of child welfare. If approached strategically, however, your new CCWIS’s analytics could be configured to continually analyze the risk and safety assessments with data documenting the effectiveness of the support provided and the outcomes experienced so it can deliver more consistent and accurate electronically generated recommendations. In other words, figure out via statistical analysis which placement decisions were successful and what efforts contributed to the success. And with a Cloud powered mobile-friendly solution producing such analytic results in real-time, agency supervisors can monitor the risk and safety assessments from the office or the field, helping case workers make such decisions.
At some point, however, children and possibly parents or guardians might need to see a clinician for psychological treatment or a service provider for help. But with current heavy caseloads, securing an appointment with a clinician or specialist might take weeks or even months. With your new CCWIS, however, case workers or social workers could be trained and empowered to proceed with administering initial assessments helping to expedite a decision as to what type of support the child or family might need. Staff could electronically administer clinical rating tools, family support needs assessments, or measurements such as the Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths (CANS) assessment. By having a resource library in your CCWIS providing your entire workforce with every form and tool they might need to keep the child safe and determine which services would be most beneficial, information can be gathered to make evidence-based decisions quicker while simultaneously collecting documentation to help the clinicians and service providers.
With the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s) study in mind, we know most kids entering child welfare have been through numerous traumatic events. Yet many agencies have not made identifying such trauma a priority. But if we don’t identify trauma and treat it first, there is a high probability removing the child from the home or not treating the child within their home for trauma will only exacerbate the trauma severity. Thus, you might want to incorporate new trauma assessments and procedures into your CCWIS. Furthermore, too often many are confusing signs of trauma with symptoms of mental disorders; they often mirror each other. And if this happens, all of the resources put toward treating a child for a mental disorder will be for not, because rarely do the therapies assigned to mental health issues have the ability to treat trauma effectively.
Additionally, with the recent lawsuit in Missouri once again highlighting the problems with heavily medicating children in foster care, we might want to rethink diagnosing basically every youth entering child welfare for a mental disorder. Because due to trauma and mental disorder symptoms often reflecting normal childhood development issues, it is far too easy to diagnose youth in child welfare with a collection of mental disorders. Such diagnosis of mental disorders too often leads to medication that come with a long list of life threatening side effects, which also often leads to more diagnoses, medication and treatment. Such an approach might be beneficial for pharmaceutical companies, but for child welfare the goal is to get them better quicker; shortening the duration of services.
We also know that most of the kids reported to CPS for neglect or abuse, are not getting the basic needs essential to help them survive or thrive as Maslow taught us. So maybe with your new CCWIS you might implement a process to monitor if they are getting the shelter, food, sense of safety, love and belonging they need. With trauma treated and ensuring a youth’s basic needs are being met, you might be pleasantly surprised with how much more efficient and effective your services can be. We can use new technology and science to take a more effective, holistic and systemic approach.
What Currently Exists is Not Enough
After 20 years of SACWIS, it’s time to fix what we know can be managed better. Your workforce, and the youth and families they serve, deserve nothing less. The CCWIS legislation clearly provides a rare opportunity to invest in revolutionizing and modernizing child welfare, and now is not the time to take a “Band-Aid” approach.
Your dedicated workforce just need more time, support and resources to do a better job in managing their chaotic days. These hard-working staff with hearts of gold are in dire need for more modern technology and better tools. With a multi-dimensional resource library of such tools electronically available to administer, and a CCWIS configured to analyze and report in real-time, you can lighten the burden on your case workers by creating processes that allow supervisors and administrators to also view this evidence in real-time and assist the case managers, investigators or social workers.
In the very near future you could pull up reports on how your agencies and facilities are performing and the level of safety they provide. And if you adopt a truly comprehensive case management system, you also could manage CPS calls, intake investigations, treatment, foster placement and parent licensing via the same system.
Before you settle for limited technology only supporting just your case workers, consider adopting a tailored solution that knocks down the silos, and supports higher quality data collection for informing automated reporting on placement decisions, treatment protocol and outcomes experienced system wide.
Capturing quality data is essential to being “evidence-driven,” but be forewarned: most CCWIS technology being marketed doesn’t offer what is needed to achieve this vital goal.
This series is written by Dr. Michael Corrigan, associate professor at, Marshall University and vice president of Multi-Dimensional Education. Corrigan and his team are the architects of VitalChild’s MDYA360 Outcomes Monitoring System, a CCWIS solution developed by Helix Business Solutions and Powered by Oracle Cloud.