Mobile Moments in Child Welfare
by Abe Lee
Where We Were
State/Tribal Automated Child Welfare Information Systems (S/TACWIS) were intended to be reporting systems designed to collect Adoption & Foster Care Analysis and Reporting Systems (AFCARS) data. These systems provided a means by which a state could provide IT support for child welfare in coordination with child protection systems.
A common thread of feedback about existing S/TACWIS has been that they have tended to serve as reporting and data gathering tools rather than as case or outcomes management systems that really help agency workers do their job. Even though there has been a desire and need for S/TACWIS to do more, their limited scope, rigid requirements and lack of access has served as a barrier. Basically, S/TACWIS technology has often driven programs and practice rather than the other way around.
Where We're Heading
The new Comprehensive Child Welfare Information System (CCWIS) regulations went into effect on August 1, 2016. CCWIS removed the requirement for states to procure and build a single comprehensive system. CCWIS allows for the use of improved technology to better support current child welfare practice. In other words, CCWIS is intended to codify what has always been the desire and mantra of all child welfare organizations - to provide technology that supports practice, not have practice modified because of technology.
"...the final rule supports the use of cost-effective, innovative technologies to automate the collection of high-quality case management data and to promote its analysis, distribution, and use by workers, supervisors, administrators, researchers, and policy makers." - Final Rule: 45 CFR Chapter XIII and Parts 1355 and 1356
The KPMG Government Institute released a white paper in July 2016 on the key aspects of the new CCWIS rules.
Moving away from the monoliths
The Administration of Children and Families, with CCWIS, is doing away with the monolithic IT systems and moving towards an agile and modular approach to system development. CCWIS provides the flexibility to identify technology solutions that support workers. Whether this is mobile apps that integrate with existing state's systems of record or digital pens like Livescribe that can record audio and script at the same time, the emphasis is on providing technology that will allow workers to do their jobs efficiently and effectively.
Moving towards the modular
CCWIS provides standardized data exchange definitions to ensure data sharing across agencies to avoid potential future issues associated with building siloed systems. CCWIS transitions states from a "data capture" to "data maintenance" model. Data does not have to be captured and entered directly into the child welfare system of record. It can now be accessed and entered via other systems of engagement (e.g. a mobile solution being used by an investigator, a social worker or a community based organization). Now states are free to implement smaller functional components. Agencies now have the flexibility to implement a solution that provides a better system of engagement for their workers or clients as a functional module. Agencies can deploy solutions that allow workers to capture and act on important mobile moments, in the moment, rather than after the moment.
Moving to mobile
Mobile devices continue to grow in their dominance of the human experience, transforming expectations for everyone in everything they do, every day. Access to relevant information to provide context and support in the field via a mobile device is becoming a necessity. Note that mobile devices are not intended to drive best practice. But mobile devices with the right solutions can inform and transform how evidence-based, best practice is achieved. CCWIS allows for this through the specific inclusion and support for innovative technologies that support children in need.
The Mobile Perspective on CCWIS Priorities
New rules provide agencies with the flexibility to build systems that "align more closely to their business needs and practices by allowing each to determine the size, scope, and functionality of their system." From a system that provides and performs everything needed to manage cases to a simple data repository and everything in between. No longer do agencies have to request proposals to replace and modernize entire systems. Now they can incrementally modernize through systems of engagement (e.g. provide mobile tools to support workers while in the field) as the agency incrementally modernizes their systems of record.
New rules allow agencies to obtain data from external sources, moving from a "data capture" emphasis to a "data maintenance" model. Though a CCWIS still needs to be the submitted "source of data for federally required and other agency reports," that data can now be inputted from outside the child welfare system itself.
New rules allow for increased collaboration and information sharing across different organizations and departments (e.g. justice, education, public health), while also opening the door to data being provided through mobile channels and via APIs to the CCWIS.
New rules emphasize the need to maintain the highest level of data quality. This must be incorporated into a quality assurance plan that supports "complete, timely, accurate, and consistent data." Mobility solutions provide a level of data quality that typically could not be achieved via traditional paper based methods of case management activities. For example, the ability to capture details (e.g. assessments) in real time reduces data entry lag, ensuring greater accuracy of content. The ability to record (via audio or video) the content and context of a visit reduces memory lag, ensuring a more complete record of an interaction that is fully auditable.
Finally, the new rules emphasize the need to plan implementations using a modular approach around automated functions. These could include standard child welfare functions such as intake processing, case assignment logic, legal order generation, Inter-State Placement Compact processing and assessment triggers/reminders. The modules that are defined typically will look at discrete business processes that define core functional areas of child welfare practice. Mobile solutions must identify interaction points within those standard functional processes where mobile moments can be leveraged.
Making Mobile Moments Count
Questions to consider while analyzing the impact of these new CCWIS rules on mobile moments should include:
Could assessments become a mobile supported module?
Could collaboration be a mobile supported module?
Could placement be a mobile supported module?
Should investigations be a mobile only module?
Understanding how the CCWIS changes will support worker's mobile moments is key. Mobility solutions can provide very concrete and practical solutions – solutions that will help agencies leverage the flexibility CCWIS provides by using the new standards and exchanges to improve data quality and promote the safety and well-being of children.