The spirit of child welfare is safeguarding children and families. When the rubber meets the road, however, service delivery is predominantly driven by compliance. The obligation to comply with federal funding rules, state regulations, and court orders has become a central focus of the work, eclipsing other actionable conversations about the safety and well-being of children. Compliance will always be important and essential. The challenge is that meeting the letter of the regulation has too often become an end in and of itself.
The consequences of this phenomenon can be serious for the children we are all dedicated to safeguarding. The focus on compliance preoccupies caseworkers with back office functions instead of providing direct service. Caseworkers who are exhausting themselves completing administrative tasks often spend less time with children and their families, and when they do get to direct services, they are faced with making child safety decisions with limited information and time.
Compliance is important and will continue to be. Our call to action is to maintain compliance as a baseline, to devote substantial energy and resources to freeing up caseworkers, and equipping them with the knowledge and tools to offer the best direct service possible. The pathway to better child welfare results requires positioning and enabling the caseworker with the right insights and tools to make thoughtful and informed decisions about the children and families they serve. On this pathway, we can all feel more confident in the decisions made about the safety of children. Furthermore, with insight-driven decision-making, we will then begin to realize the improved outcomes in child welfare for which we all strive.
Right at our fingertips, there is technology innovation waiting to be used. With a new mindset in place, we can rethink how new and existing tools can better enable our caseworkers. Using data insights, artificial intelligence (AI), robotic process automation (RPA), and extended reality (XR), we can create a new service ecosystem by weaving technology and casework into an approach that puts the child and family at the center of the provided services. Specifically, we can focus on how technology can and should be used to return front-line staff's full attention to the direct service of children and families--something only humans can do.
In the "microchip millennium," data systems are standard tools of the trade in child...