Posted Thursday, March 12, 2020 by Team Northwoods

Putting the 'Human' Back in Human Services Through Robotic Process Automation

Human services agencies are constantly fighting to make time for meaningful, high-value work with clients, while maintaining compliance and maximizing efficiency.

Robotic process automation (RPA), technology that streamlines processes and automates routine tasks, could be the answer. With RPA, caseworkers could have more time to focus on engaging clients, building trust, and doing mission-driven work.

Consider the following processes that RPA—combined with back-end workflows, artificial intelligence (AI), and other emerging tools—could help simplify:


Streamlining renewals.

RPA is especially applicable across means-tested eligibility programs, such as Medicaid. Let’s look at an example where a client’s benefits auto-terminate because their renewal form didn’t get processed within the required time frame.

Too often, manual processes that require the client and caseworker to go back and forth to get all the right verification documents submitted for the renewal are to blame.

This creates several friction points. For example, if the client needs medical care during the lapse in benefits, they may have to visit the ER instead of a primary care doctor who would have been covered.

A bot could help mitigate these negative ripple effects by reading the renewal form to determine if all the right boxes are checked and the proper verifications are attached. If anything is missing, the bot would trigger a notification to the client to submit it. If everything is there, it would send the complete form and verification to the worker to continue processing.

All of this would happen in real time (even when the caseworker leaves for the day, the bot would keep working!) and minimize delays for the client who no longer needs to worry about his or her benefits expiring.



Accelerating benefits requests.

You may have heard of “baby bot,” a pilot project that launched in Hamilton County, Ohio in May 2018. It’s one of the earliest use cases for how RPA can remove delays in providing benefits.

Essentially, when a baby is born to a family receiving services (e.g., Medicaid or temporary assistance), a bot registers and connects the newborn to the existing case, so the family’s benefits are modified automatically instead of a caseworker having to manually complete paperwork with the family.

As explained in Ohio’s Enterprise IT Statement of Direction, “Within two months, it had enrolled 372 newborns in a managed care plan on the same day that the county received their information, removing any delay in medical coverage. Previously, it took employees up to six days to process a newborn’s information. The automation also notified caseworkers that another 316 newborns needed to be reviewed for benefits and provided a path to addressing the issue.”



Assuring child welfare compliance.

It’s no secret that compliance tends to overshadow the human elements of child welfare. But, if RPA can manage the heavy lifting on mandated responsibilities, workers wouldn’t have to put their more valuable family-centered activities on hold.

Think about preparing for a Title IV-E Review, Children and Family Services Review (CFSR), or state audit. Typically, multiple workers get pulled into the frenzy for several hours at a time, possibly over the course of several weeks, which means they don’t have time to focus on serving families and children.

RPA could simplify this process in several ways. For starters, a bot could quickly scan and find the cases that meet the review requirements instead of workers doing it manually. A bot could also help verify that all the proper documents and evidence—including any files or records maintained separately—are included with cases that get pulled.

RPA could also help with other internal activities that follow a formulaic process, such as demonstrating all necessary documentation and evidence is in place prior to transferring, closing, or filing a case in court.

In both examples, compliance becomes more of a background process so that workers can focus their time and energy on families, without putting the agency at risk for failing to meet requirements. Even better, agencies can offer much more detailed and robust examples representing their true work.


ResearchLibrary-16Engaging caregivers and supports.

As the opioid epidemic continues to impact child welfare, RPA can help manage some of the ripple effects, such as increasing support for kinship caregivers.

Consider a case where grandma is serving as guardian for her grandson because her daughter (mom) is battling addiction. Not only does grandma want to provide a safe and caring home for her grandson, but she also wants to help her daughter get the support she needs to recover.

As the agency begins prioritizing their time and effort to support grandma in caring for her grandson, they also want to be able to connect her (and other extended family members who could provide support) with the necessary resources and services to help mom through a difficult time. 

In this instance, a bot could automate communication to keep the family informed of these resources and services, such as sending reminders or triggering notifications as support programs become available. This way, the family is encouraged to help mom without compromising focus on the child.

Increased need for foster parents is another ripple effect of opioids that RPA could help manage.

For example, a bot could support foster parent recruitment, such as scanning a list of prospective families and triggering follow-up emails to those who haven’t engaged in a certain amount of time. Or, it could help manage the application process for families who want to enroll in pre-service training.


Now that we’ve given you a few ideas, start thinking about how your agency could leverage RPA, keeping in mind that two types of activities are best suited for it:

  • Repetitive, structured tasks with limited need for critical thinking or decision-making
  • “Swivel chair” work that requires a person to enter the same data in multiple systems

We’ll continue to update this blog post with more examples. In the meantime, share your thoughts in the comments!

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