By: Ryan Randall
Tech Improves Engagement
Foster care represents a critical nationwide system that benefits thousands of children and families every year, but it also presents challenges for children and caseworkers. According to Children’s Home Society of Florida (CHS), turnover in case management directly affects outcomes for children in foster care. Statistics illustrate that every turnover event leads to an additional four and a half months in foster care for every child on that case manager’s caseload. Additionally, each turnover event increases the probability by 53 percent that a child will exit foster care at 18 without a family.
When this happens, it costs taxpayers an additional $300,000 over the course of that youth’s lifetime. There is also a high turnover rate for case managers, averaging 50 percent nationally. According to CHS, 80 percent of a case manager’s time is spent on administration and travel, while less than 10 percent is dedicated to families and the rest on court time and trainings.
“One of the key drivers of success for a child in foster care is the continuity of care by one case manager,” said Marty Rubin, a former state board member of CHS and a past board chair. “However, the 50 percent turnover in front-line professionals makes this difficult to achieve.”
Instead of accepting the status quo, CHS looked into ways it could help change this and do a better job. The organization came up with CaseAIM — technology that eliminates many of the major job dissatisfaction factors for case managers.
“Less job dissatisfaction leads to lower turnover, which, in turn, improves outcomes for the children in foster care,” explained Rubin. “CaseAIM is a prime example of CHS’ innovation and leadership, as the organization constantly pushes itself to do better for kids.”
Streamlining the Process
A unique tool developed by CHS, CaseAIM works to streamline the case management process by providing solutions that address the administrative work case managers are burdened with. In particular, it directly impacts the amount of paperwork a case manager needs to carry for a home visit by having all the information available through a tablet or phone. The app also allows case managers to work with families more efficiently, showing parents ways they can apply for government-assisted programs, child Medicaid enrollment and jobs, as well as how they can obtain their GED.
An additional app available on case managers’ phones contains children’s information and identification numbers, which allows case managers to pull up a case visit and have all the necessary information available quickly. The app also allows case managers to map out home visits in the shortest distance between sites, similar to Waze or MapQuest. In addition to route optimization, the app offers risk prioritization, automatically adjusting if a case manager needs to attend to a crisis.
In addition to the technology, a unified service center staffed by senior case managers is available to review case files, make referrals and file court documents. This alleviates some of the administrative responsibilities case managers deal with so they can spend more face time with children. The center can also handle transportation duties for a case manager, such as making sure children get to visits with their parents.
The idea for CaseAIM came as a result of data showing the voluntary turnover rate of case managers due to the overburden of administrative duties. In May 2015, through a partnership with Microsoft, the CHS team spent a weekend in what Heather Morgan, the organization’s vice president of Brand and Communications, described as a “hack-a-thon,” during which the IT team, Microsoft volunteers and case managers were tasked with coming up with a system to streamline the case management process.
“Less job dissatisfaction leads to lower turnover, which, in turn, improves outcomes for the children in foster care.” – Marty Rubin
Based off pilots of CaseAIM implemented in Jacksonville and Orange County from 2015 to 2016, the first year of data showed the program reduced the administrative and travel burden by 25 percent, increased face time by 24 percent, and resulted in zero voluntary turnover among case managers. After experiencing this success, CHS expanded CaseAIM throughout Orange, Seminole and Polk counties in February 2017.
From February through June 2017, data revealed CaseAIM improved positive permanency outcomes for children in those three counties. Among all the children served by case managers using CaseAIM, 19.5 were expected to have positive permanency outcomes (based upon historical data and projections). In the end, 25 actually achieved positive permanency outcomes — either returning safely home to their families or finding a permanent home through adoption.
Helping children find homes
Briana Kobayashi has been a case manager for CHS for nearly two years and started with the CaseAIM program in December 2016. Having experience in performing her job duties before the program, she noted CaseAIM has allowed her to have better engagement with families. She can spend more time with them and better understand how to assist them. In a line of work that can be met with pushback from families that misinterpret case managers with workers from the Department of Children and Families, the ability to easily show a child’s progress to safely returning home is critical.
“When I can sit with families and show them where we’re at right now and where I’m trying to get them, it’s a good visual for them to see,” said Kobayashi. “After all, it’s my goal to help in any way possible.”
As CaseAIM continues to help case managers work in a more efficient manner, it, in turn, is able to reach more children and families in the quest for permanent homes. For Morgan, a foster parent for five years, the ability to help case managers has a personal side.
“I’ve seen the other side of how overburdened case managers are,” she said. “Because I work full time, my case managers have to come to my house after hours, so I know they’re sacrificing time with their own kids so they can see the children in care. Almost all the children I’ve had in my home have had turnover in their own case managers, so I definitely feel strongly about how amazing this opportunity is for the kids being served by CHS.”