Caseworker Safety Alerts; Technology That Supports Practice

Caseworker Safety Alerts; Technology That Supports Practice

Child welfare professionals dedicate their lives and careers to making sure children and families in their communities are safe. Their passion for the work coupled with being overworked and overtasked can lead to workers forgetting that their own safety is critical. Unfortunately, violence against caseworkers in our country has continued to increase. Feeling safe in your workplace is critical and beyond the physical dangers that child welfare workers face if they do not feel safe, it leads to other problems such as inability to retain staff. The Capacity Building Center for States published a child welfare worker safety guide that finds , “In addition to the physical and emotional costs, violence against child welfare workers has been associated with significant direct and indirect costs for child welfare agencies, including increased medical expenses for victims, higher expenditures for mental health care services, lost productivity, low worker retention, and other costs (Kim & Hopkins, 2015)”​

As a former child welfare caseworker myself, I appreciated reminders from my supervisor and coworkers to remain aware and cautious in my work in the community. Knowing someone cared enough to think about my personal safety mattered and made me feel valued in my work. At Augintel we are taking these reminders a step further. When a caseworker is assigned to a new family, we know they do not have the time to review the record in full. But there's critical information there, including potential worker safety concerns, so our NLP (Natural Language Processing) model reads it for them. When we see mentions of weapons in a home, unsafe pets, or violence in the community, we alert the worker and their supervisor. These topics are common, we sent over 5200 alerts in 2023. We include the exact sentences from the record, so that they can determine the next steps to prepare for their visit. The response to these notices has been overwhelmingly positive, workers thank us every day. Caseworkers are reminded to consider their safety as well as those they serve; they feel valued and appreciate the heads up - and caseworkers who feel supported and appreciated stay longer. Just this week, an investigator told me, “It is a good heads up. Investigators carry a heavy caseload, and this is important information that can be overlooked. It means a lot that the state found a way to track that information.” This is a great example of using technology to support the daily work of caseworkers AND deliver value to the organization.  

Child welfare is going through the biggest technology transformation in 3 decades. CCWIS (Comprehensive Child Welfare Information System) funding is driving wide scale modernization. And guidelines from ACF (Administration for Children and Families)) specifically encourage agencies to embrace innovation to deliver systems that truly support practice. Combined with current technological capabilities, this creates an unprecedented opportunity to deliver systems that truly improve how child welfare works and the day-to-day experience for staff. I recently heard an HHS (Health and Human Services) CIO say (forgive me for paraphrasing) that their modernization efforts included natural language processing rather than increasing focus on structured data fields so that caseworkers can work the way they are intended to work. That's innovative thinking that supports practice!

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