Assisting Case Workers in Child Welfare Functions
In response to federal laws requiring improved tracking of children in state foster care, the State of Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) embarked on a project to create a State Child Welfare Information System (SACWIS). Prior to the launching of this project, most information on children in care was paper-based and fragmented, which caused issues with overall business process effectiveness and efficiency. State of Maine turned to Sybase technology to help develop this solution.
A base system was brought in from the State of Indiana, and the design effort included all levels of program and technical staff. The process culminated with the Maine Child Welfare Information System (MACWIS), developed in accordance with federal and state mandated laws. Today, MACWIS is one of only nine federally-compliant state child welfare information systems in the country.
MACWIS serves as the single repository for all Maine child welfare information to assist case workers in the recording, tracking, and processing of child welfare functions. As an object-oriented, windows-based application, MACWIS was developed using Sybase PowerBuilder as the application development tool.
More than 1,000 users have access to MACWIS, and at any time during the day, 400 users are actively using the system. The system is the single repository for all electronic child welfare information and actively manages 850,000 identified persons as well as 30,000 resources. MACWIS also manages the licensing functions of those resources though the Office of Child and Family Services as well as the Division of Licensing and Regulatory Services.
The system interfaces with many other statewide agency systems. Users can enter and retrieve information from any state office and have access to information quickly to help accomplish their work. MACWIS also allows users to access ticklers as reminders of upcoming tasks and lists of service/placement providers. The system also enables electronic case-transfer and provides required forms for documenting work.
Due to the extremely sensitive information in the system, MACWIS follows strict confidentiality rules that include security profiles, restricted access to high-profile cases, and user tracking. Users of MACWIS provide a variety of tasks for many areas across DHHS. For example, case workers can review client child welfare participation, create legal documents for court activity, and pay service/placement providers.
MACWIS has never experienced a significant service outage and continues to provide a multitude of different services to different customers to the benefit of the families and children that DHHS serves.
Focus on Positive Outcomes for Children
The MACWIS project provides a case management tool that captures all of the information required to meet the needs of the field staff. Its wealth of data has resulted in the ability to create informative and dynamic reports for the use in policy management and field staff supervision. Due to MACWIS, management was able to make a conscious decision to move from a system managed by anecdote to one driven by data. Today at all levels of the system, child welfare professionals are not only familiar with but on a regular basis actively using data.
“It was not until data reports were able to be generated that the system moved from supervising by anecdote to being able to manage with data and allowed managers to measure performance in ways that directly affected the outcomes for the families they serve.” - Regional Manager
MACWIS data allows staff to work more effectively by concentrating on those case elements that most directly resulted in positive outcomes for children. One detailed example of the benefits of the MACWIS system is Maine’s ability to reduce its reliance on institutional care placements for foster children and increase of foster care placements with relatives. Research proves that children have better long term outcomes through adulthood when raised in a family setting. Since 2003, MACWIS data has been used by management to make informed policy decisions that have decrease by 88% the number of children placed in an institutional setting and today only 6% of Maine foster children are placed in an institutional setting, one of the lowest percentages in the country. In 2003, 12% of the children in foster care where placed with a relative, today 50% of the children that enter foster care are placed with a relatives. Since the implementation of the MACWIS system, Maine has developed into a leading child welfare system. Specific data elements from the MACWIS system are able to be used to create a data view of the child welfare process from start to finish. Managers are able to create real and sustainable improvements to the system, which has increased the wellbeing and the safety for the children in Maine.
“Daily we work in an environment where we deal with each case individually, but it is the use of the data available in the system that allows us to step back and say if the decisions made are really beneficial to long term outcomes for the families we serve.” – Regional Manager
A Model System
MACWIS has played a major role in helping the State of Maine improve the outcomes of children involved with child protection over the past 10 years. As reported in the Maine Sunday Telegram on January 30, 2011, Tracy Field of the Annie E. Casey Foundation said, “Maine was not on the map as being a leader in the past. Now they’re viewed as having really good outcomes.” In the article, Field also said that child welfare managers, case workers, advocates and legislators from Virginia as well as other states have visited Maine in recent years to get a firsthand look at the child welfare system.
Maine is also one of only nine states in the entire country to gain compliance as a State Automated Child Welfare Information System. In addition, the state has further set itself apart in the way that it generates data from the system that can be acted upon by management at all levels. Several other state child welfare department administrators have visited with Maine administrators of MACWIS to learn more about how to generate actionable data. As other state administrators have found, Maine manages outcomes more effectively because timely and accurate information not previously accessible is now not only available in the system, but actively being used by management.
Besides functioning as a case management tool, the MACWIS system includes forms, letters, and event-tracking reports so caseworkers save time in creating required documentation. The system populates the forms with information already held within the system and caseworkers simply fill in any additional information necessary. This gives them more time to interact directly with children and families.
One of the most important aspects of the system is its ability to track the placement and care needs of the children in state custody. The MACWIS system holds the placement information of all of the children Maine serves as well as emergency and out of state contacts for the foster care providers, so that in the event of a major disaster all of the children the state is responsible for can be quickly located. It also holds all important medical and special needs information of the children so that any available caseworker has the information needed to meet the emergency needs of any child in the system.
The hallmark of an innovative data system, especially in this current economy, is that it be flexible and adaptable so that other agencies can leverage its success. In the case of MACWIS it has the proven ability to track and manage case management outcomes, manage resources, provide financial processing, meet all state and federal reporting requirements, and produce successful outcomes.
Success is a Moving Target
All of the state and federal regulations that MACWIS must comply with, and which change over time, present a constant challenge. The federal requirements alone are several hundred pages long and include strict security and privacy regulations since the information to be tracked is extremely private. Maine receives 17,000 child abuse reports annually, 10,000 of which turn out to be appropriate and require investigation.
DHHS has achieved current compliance, but new requirements will continue to emerge, so success is a moving target. The organization has succeeded because it has deployed the necessary hardware and software with a technical staff savvy enough to adapt to changes and the ability to program the software to handle the intricacies of compliance.
Because of the compliance challenge, many states in the U.S. have attempted to build such a system but only nine have completed the process. The MACWIS solution has been successful as it is flexible enough to adapt to changes. Because the system was created modularly and is maintained at that level, the organization can more easily consider new features, and it allows the base system to be helpful to other areas of the state, which helps make the state government more efficient.