Posted Monday, November 30, 2015 by Rich Bowlen

Why CCWIS is More Than Just Another Policy

“Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

- Francis of Assisi

There’s been a lot of talk about the next generation child welfare information systems with the proposed Comprehensive Child Welfare Information Systems (CCWIS) from the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). Let’s think about this in context of the above quote from Francis of Assisi.

Child welfare advocates are thankful the federal government has raised the bar to do what’s necessary. It’s time we, as child welfare advocates, take this opportunity to continue raising the bar to do what’s possible to deliver the highest quality of services to the most vulnerable.

What’s Necessary: New Technology Rules

The technology landscape has changed, and will continue to change, at an incredible rate since HHS first published the existing regulations for current-generation Statewide and Tribal Automated Child Welfare Information Systems (SACWIS). Think about what’s come on board since 1993: DVDs, PDFs, iPods, iPads, Skype, Wi-Fi, and open APIs to name a few.

The proposed rule absolutely opens the door for child welfare agencies to take advantage of today’s innovative technology in ways you’ve only dreamed about. This is a necessity that no one can argue against given the current challenges in child welfare to serve more families with more dynamic and complex problems with fewer staff and less funding.

As people talk about what the proposed rule means, you’ve no doubt heard words like interoperable, bi-directional, holistic, flexible, functional, and integrated. These are the hallmarks of what’s necessary to make the proposed CCWIS a success to support current child welfare practice now and into the future, especially at the local level where the boots are on the streets.

However, child welfare advocates must consider more than what is necessary, but what is possible. Not just what can we do, but what should we do to protect children?

What’s Possible: Better Outcomes

The “business” of child welfare is unlike any other business. Success isn’t measured by the volume of widgets you sell, applications processed, or even the number of clients you serve. Success, plain and simple, is making a child safer today than he was yesterday. That mission is the core of every business decision you make from who to hire, how to work with community partners, to how to get more funding.

Why would making decisions about how technology can and should be used be any different?

Ask yourself not what is permitted by CCWIS, but what is possible with CCWIS?

  • You truly know your families. Be honest with yourself… could you answer these questions about every family you work with? Who are all the potential positive supports available to this family? What services have this family used previously that were helpful or not helpful? What insights have collateral sources provided? How are current behavioral, mental health, or drug/alcohol needs being met? What medications have or are being used and determined to be effective? What does this child’s teacher think? To truly keep a child safe, you must know as many details as you can. CCWIS’ intention to create bi-lateral data exchanges between child welfare and other programs offers that possibility.
  • Families trust, not fear your help. Children’s services workers are negatively depicted as “baby-snatchers” in the news media, TV, and among the general public. Imagine a world where a social worker knocks on a door and the family is thankful for the help, not resentful of the intrusion. If technology tools do the necessary work of managing data behind the scenes, social workers can do social work: create engaging plans with families, participate in a child’s medical appointments, advocate for families to gain needed assistance, help educate parents on developmental, behavioral, and medical needs of their children. Earning a family’s trust leads to better outcomes.
  • Social workers are in the field. All. The. Time. Mobility, true mobility, offers tools that let social workers do their work from anywhere, at any time the way they need to work. If states and local agencies can move from a system that is built to collect data to one that simply manages data, social workers can be as creative and innovative as they want to be in uniquely building a family’s and/or child’s strengths in order to meet their distinctive needs.

Doing the Impossible: Driving Change

No one knows better than frontline workers what will best support their work in promoting safety, achieving well being, and ensuring permanency. Imagine what today’s social workers could accomplish with tools that allow them to demonstrate what is possible? Proposed CCWIS regulations offer an opportunity for child welfare advocates to drive best practices, not react to them. Now is the time to do so. Instead of waiting for other entities to dictate what minimal activities must look like on EVERY case, social workers and frontline supervisors can simply do the good work they’ve always knew was possible, and let the positive outcomes speak for themselves.

Northwoods believes in building tools to help child welfare advocates achieve what currently feels impossible. Do you believe?