As governments seek to improve the effectiveness of social programs, a persistent challenge is the multi-faceted nature of the problems facing children, families, and individuals. Addressing these challenges effectively requires sharing information across traditional departmental boundaries, and doing so in a timely manner. Pulling the right information together is so difficult and takes so long that few are able to do it.
Consider this: data is growing at a rate of 60% per year, more than doubling every two years. Old systems based primarily on search algorithms simply can’t keep up. Today, it is estimated that caseworkers spend half of their time on paperwork and operational tasks, and as little as 20% interacting with those they serve.
Fortunately, recent advancements in natural language processing, artificial intelligence, and cognitive computing are creating new tools to aggregate data and make it usable. These tools can analyze vast amounts of multiple types of information to produce actionable insights for caseworkers.
Cognitive systems have come a long way since 2011 when IBM Watson beat Ken Jennings in Jeopardy. Today, the IBM Watson Health platform is used by oncologists to determine the optimum treatment plan for their patients, and helping drug companies accelerate new discoveries. Systems built using these cognitive platforms have the potential to dramatically improve the effectiveness of the caseworker, and yield better outcomes for those they serve.
Consider examples of how cognitive systems could impact the processes and practices in child welfare:
- Combine data in new ways across education, substance abuse systems, healthcare and child welfare to identify the best programmatic and service options for individual children or families in a manner that would otherwise be impossible using current systems.
- Review case notes, written over many years, in multiple departments, to provide a caseworker with a summary that includes key trends, themes and other summary information before they visit a home.
- Assess optimal training and education services to help prepare prospective foster parents before the placement of the child in their home.
Families in need often depend on government social programs for support. Caseworkers who assist these families are at the mercy of the information given to them. They must make real-time decisions in critical situations with limited data. Cognitive computing will be a smart assistant to help caseworkers do what they do best: make a positive difference in the lives of the people they serve.