As a child welfare caseworker, Kristen Sternquist investigates extreme cases of child abuse, sexual abuse, and fatalities. That’s her job description. It doesn’t explain what she really does every day.
Imagine being Kristen and getting an emergency call about a fatality. It’s late into the evening. You race to the office and scramble to pack up a notebook, camera, pens, forms, and anything you think you need. When you get to the hospital, you face a nightmare. A child has died. But you have to keep your composure to work with law enforcement, doctors, nurses, and medical social workers to make sure you ask the right questions, collect the right evidence, and take the right photos. When you leave the situation, probably hours later, you have to go back to the office and type out your notes, record your photos, and relive the horrible situation you just encountered.
No amount of training, resolve, or experience can prepare even the most seasoned caseworker for the emotional turmoil that comes with investigating the death of a child.
No matter how much we want to, Northwoods can’t ease the full strain of that type of experience for Kristen. However, we can help minimize the emotional toll in a small way.
Chemung County Caseworkers Shift Time from Paperwork to People
Kristen is part of a pilot group of caseworkers in Chemung County Department of Social Services (DSS) in New York who worked with Northwoods to help caseworkers electronically capture documents and share information, take date- and time-stamped photos, complete forms, and access necessary documents in the field.
For Kristen, the ability to take photos that are each automatically and immediately stamped with the date and time, client’s information, and caseworker’s name and comments helped her through a recent fatality investigation.
“Having the time stamp and who took the picture seems like such a small thing. I had a fatality. I had 100 pictures. To write that on 100 pictures would have taken me a long time. To have that done for me was very nice,” Kristen said.
Having to deal with a fatality is hard enough. Not having to look through photos and write information on each also saved her from reliving the emotionally draining experience.
"I'm able to do more out in the field
"I could not imagine going back to paper and not
having Northwoods and not having CoPilot
in the field. It would be extremely difficult
and frustrating because I feel like
I would be wasting so much time.”
– Morgan Harvey
Kristen and her fellow caseworkers can also share photos of kids or living conditions with supervisors from home visits so they can make collaborative, educated decisions about a child’s safety in the moment.
“We are able to access information that we need right away, and right away is really important when we’re talking about child safety,” said Theresa Houck, CAC Supervisor.
Chemung County caseworkers are also using the mobile app to complete documentation more quickly so they can spend more time interacting with families on a regular basis. Quality time with families is the best way to improve safety outcomes, reduce reoccurrence, and establish permanency for children.
"You feel like you are able to make more of a difference because you have some more time to spend with the families. The work can be pretty upsetting at times, but knowing that we can have more time because it’s an easier process has improved my morale and what we're trying to do with families,” said Morgan Harvey, Senior Caseworker.
Based on the success of the pilot project, Chemung County DSS rolled out the child welfare software to the entire Children and Family Services Division, totaling 42 caseworkers who investigate suspected abuse and neglect, provide ongoing services to families, and work in foster care and adoption.
Northwoods’ mobile document management solution, Compass® CoPilot, has helped Chemung County DSS:
- Spend more time interacting with families
- Complete notes 91% faster
- Capture more accurate notes
- Reduce time spent on paperwork by 1 hour per day
- Improve caseworker morale
At Northwoods, we hope these improvements mean caseworkers like Kristen are spending time engaging families and improving outcomes so they never have to investigate a child fatality again.
Editor's note: This blog article was updated Feb. 11, 2016 to include a new video case study about Chemung County DSS caseworkers' success. The article was originally published Dec. 9, 2016.
|Rich Bowlen is Director, Protective Services at Northwoods, where he is dedicated to improving the lives of caseworkers and social workers. Rich has 25 years serving in child protective services and is known for his passion for improving the lives of children.|
No amount of training, resolve, or experience can prepare even the most seasoned caseworker for the emotional turmoil that comes with investigating the death of a child. No matter how much we want to, Northwoods can’t ease the full strain of that type of experience. However, we can help minimize the emotional toll in a small way.