Three child welfare challenges that technology could solve

By | 3 minute read | September 28, 2021

Young boy placed in the child welfare system.

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Few government responsibilities are more important than keeping children safe and protecting their well-being. Yet the caseworkers and the systems set up to deliver these services are chronically overwhelmed. In 2019, United States protective services received an estimated 4.4 million referrals.1 Of those referrals, around 3.5 million children received a child protective investigation or an alternative response. Over the past five years, the number of total referrals has steadily increased resulting in the national referral rate averaging 59.5 referrals per 1,000 children in the population.1 This volume is daunting for the agencies and departments who must ensure each child’s safety with one hand while the other is juggling tight budgets and high staff turnover.

Policy reforms and additional funding can provide some relief to child welfare leaders and their staff, but some challenges can be overcome with technology.

Here are three challenges for effective engagements that technology can help overcome:

1) Administrative overload

A 2020 study conducted by the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute found that 61% of caseworkers had caseloads exceeding the recommended level.2 In addition to the increase in number of cases, caseworkers are also grappling with an overwhelming amount of administrative work. The majority of their time is spent on paperwork and working through persistent documentation backlogs. Aged systems and even paper-based systems used by caseworkers only add to the documentation backlogs. Implementing a modern case management information system could save caseworkers precious time by streamlining repetitive tasks, helping them find critical information faster, and providing them with easy access to information they need in the field. With critical information readily available, case workers can manage their caseloads more efficiently and focus on engagement with the family and child.

2) Fractured communication

Most child welfare workers would agree that it takes a village to address the needs of a child and their family. Effective communication between caseworkers, educators, medical practitioners, courts, and various service providers is critical. Poor coordination between this multidisciplinary team can lead to critical services being delayed or not delivered when the child and family need them the most. By creating a common process and the functionality to support the multidisciplinary team, leaders would ensure that critical information is available and tracked between all of the people who interact with the child.

3) Lack of stability

Due to high turnover 3, a typical child welfare case involves numerous caseworkers. Absorbing the family history can be time consuming and records may be incomplete, so not only do children constantly have to adjust to unfamiliar faces, they have to endure telling their stories over and over again. Many of their experiences are overwhelming, and the lack of consistency or stability in the system that’s supposed to help them can retraumatize a child. A modern case management system keeps critical information organized and tools powered by analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) could help staff across different agencies and programs quickly extract the most relevant information about children and their families. This approach not only makes it easier for staff to get up to speed, but also reduces the number of times children and families have to relive their trauma.

While it would be nice to just download a program that will solve these problems, child welfare leaders often hesitate to add more technology and training on top of their staff’s overwhelming workloads. To successfully infuse technology into child welfare services, it must be flexible, intuitive, and designed to help governments focus on improving individual processes rather than replacing everything at once.

IBM is dedicated to providing flexible, modular solutions that let agencies incorporate solutions incrementally and give leaders options to build on top of existing resources. Our goal is to help child welfare organizations modernize and enhance their services with technology so that frontline staff can spend more time focused on their engagement with the family and achieving permanency for children.

The IBM Watson Health Child Welfare Practice provides solutions that facilitate engagement with families, support child welfare practitioners, informs practice, and shapes policy. We make this possible by offering a wide variety of functional modules designed by child welfare practitioners, for child welfare practitioners, and implemented by child welfare practitioners. We have a mission to make a difference for children and families. To do this we have established a culture of child welfare expertise that encourages innovation, learning, and a passion for improving the effectiveness of child welfare practice. Our purpose-built, configurable SaaS child welfare solution will save you time on implementation to deliver value to your community faster, save you money on ongoing maintenance and support, and will expand as you grow your included programs to cover additional populations.

See how you can transform child welfare with technology: