Hello. My name is Melissa Ahrens, and I am a final year MSW student at UNC, and serving as an intern at the NASW-NC until this May. I will be joining Jack in updating the blog.
NASW-NC has received information regarding a new information sharing system to support child welfare practice. DSS CARES was created by Mayor John F. Street in Philadelphia, PA as a way to integrate the city's health and human services. The vision is "to provide a comprehensive social service system that efficiently improves the safety, health and well-being of indviduals and families within their own communities." Essentially, the information system allows a human services worker to enter the system and be provided a summary of services that have been provided by a City Department or funded through a City Department, for any client. DSS CARES explains that it is the most comprehensive way for a child welfare worker or other human services professional to "view" data from any City department. What about the issue of consent from our clients? The entire system is driven by consent, which is viewable, printable, time limited and HIPPA compliant. The consent can also be revoked at any time, in writing.
As a former child welfare worker, I have a few thoughts on this project. In general, I think it's a very smart idea. I can't tell you the number of times I wished for a program similar to this when I had just received a new child into foster care. Parents are not always reliable reporters at such a stressful time in their lives, and may not remember to tell you everything and everyone they are involved with. A central place to find this information for service planning and information gathering would be ideal.
I am curious though, about non-state/city agencies that a client is involved with, which can be many depending on your county. How would a child welfare worker be able to access this information? Would DSS agencies still have to have their own methods of gaining consent and gathering information from private agencies, thereby having to do almost double the work?
How will this be perceived by social work clients, particularly those who have just had their children removed? Will it seem too "big brother" for them, further alienating them from DSS? Or, will they be relieved that their social worker can access all of this information without them having to provide all the contact information and sign multiple consent forms?
And lastly, what's the back up plan for the day the system crashes? Child welfare workers in particular tend to have multiple tasks at one time, are often pressed for time, and need information right away. I am concerned that this system may add to their stress level if it is not functioning on any given day, and may decrease, rather than increase, efficiency. Child welfare workers need information quickly to make decisions for the children on their watch, and a system that has crashed could have a negative effect on these children.
I look forward to hearing more about this program and having my questions answered. If it works, this could be a valuable tool for North Carolina's child welfare workers, and could greatly improve service delivery. I hope we will not rush into a decision, but take the time to ensure it will help and not hinder our valuable social workers and the families they serve.
Want to learn more? Come to the joint meeting for the Collaborative and the Data Advisory Council on Thursday, September 26th from 9:00-11:00am in the Albemarle building. There will be a conference call with Philadelphia during this meeting.