Since 2016, the Comprehensive Child Welfare Information System (CCWIS) final rule continues to change the way child welfare and human services leaders think about technology and innovation.
Beyond shifting the focus from monolithic to modular systems, it has sparked an industry-wide shift in thinking about how case data and information can and should be stored and shared for the good of the client. Further, it has empowered us to embrace flexibility and human-centered design, bring emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning to the forefront, and raise the bar to deliver the highest quality of services to the most vulnerable.
These advances have been around in other industries for a while. To see them now making an impact in child welfare is exciting, especially when there hasn’t been an investment this big since Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System (SACWIS) regulations were first created in the early 90s!
The American Public Human Services Agency’s (APHSA) policy brief on harnessing data and technology summarizes why this is so important:
“There are hopeful signs that the health and human services field is poised to close the gap between policy/program needs and the technology infrastructure that supports them, improving the resilience of mission-critical systems and providing more equitable access to supports and services. Although the effort is complex and certainly will not happen overnight, positive change is afoot.”
CCWIS Technical Bulletin #8: Data Exchange Standards is a meaningful step toward this hopeful future. But it’s still just the tip of the iceberg.
What is CCWIS Technical Bulletin #8?
Let’s start with a quick refresher for anyone who needs it. CCWIS technical bulletins (TBs) offer information and guidance that supplement the CCWIS Final Rule. Seven TBs have previously been published covering how to approach modular system design, determine cost allocations, establish data quality/review plans, and more. TB #8 is especially exciting because it provides a lot of clarification that states have been waiting for regarding data exchanges that, like APHSA states above, will help close the gap between policy and program needs.
A data exchange, as defined in CCWIS regulations, is the automated, electronic submission and/or receipt of information between two automated data processing systems. (Think about when you sync your banking account with a budgeting or financial app that can also help manage your money – that’s an everyday example of the type of exchange we’re describing.) The goal of CCWIS data exchange standards and requirements is to reduce the potential for error by allowing quality data to be sent back and forth between child welfare agencies, child welfare contributing agencies (CWCAs), and CCWIS, instead of the same data having to be entered multiple times. It also ensures that quality data is maintained in CCWIS, even if it’s collected in a different system.
Here’s an example using our child welfare software Traverse® to show how this works: Traverse autofills case, client, and service provider data provided by CCWIS into state and county electronic forms. Social workers can also complete additional information as needed to be made available to CCWIS. (In states that allow it, they can even send case note narratives from Traverse’s mobile app to CCWIS!) Because of the data exchange, workers spend less time filling out basic information (names, addresses, dates, etc.) on forms and more time engaging families, which increases the potential for a positive case outcome. Reducing these administrative obstacles can also help minimize social worker burnout and turnover.
TB #8 provides guidance, requirements, and standards to help states and agencies establish and manage these data exchanges. It also expands on some of the benefits of having these data exchanges in practice, such as:
- Minimizing duplicate entry and the potential for error
- Collecting more comprehensive stories about clients’ past and present to inform the future
- Supporting consistent service delivery and coordination that meets each family’s unique needs
- Empowering better collaboration and information exchange between all the organizations with a stake in the case
Another result of all this? States can move quickly on getting smaller products or individual modules out to workers that are easy to use and make an immediate impact instead of having to wait months or even years for a huge monolithic system to be changed … something they’ve been wanting for years.
How Does Federal Guidance for State-Level Systems Impact County Agencies?
You may be asking yourself, what does this all mean at the local level? (Or if you work outside of child welfare, why should you care?) CCWIS is opening the door for more meaningful data exchanges in child welfare. Now it’s time to get them into practice on a larger scale across all human services programs.
Counties have long invested in (or built their own) tools to collect data in a way that fits their daily activities and needs. This same data has to be entered into the state information system for compliance and reporting purposes. So, if the two systems can’t exchange this data automatically, it falls on the worker to enter it twice. The more time workers spend copying and pasting data from one system to another, the less time they have to use it to inform decisions and actions. This decelerates workers’ ability to focus on families while contributing to worsening problems related to burnout, turnover, and staff shortages.
Now, imagine if all the data and information you collected in one system became available in another, when and where it was relevant, without any added work. Further, imagine if this could happen across multiple programs (for example, data collected by an economic assistance worker could be made available to child welfare or child care and vice versa). Letting data flow more freely back and forth, and without policy restriction, is a huge step toward making the whole workforce not only more effective, but also happier in their jobs.
Leaders across all levels of government, as well as the advocates and technology providers who support them, will need to work together to make this future a reality.
County leaders can use this bulletin to advocate more loudly for what their workforce needs and encourage cross-departmental collaboration and information sharing. County workers are on the frontline and have valuable perspective on what data and information they need to inform the decisions they make, as well as what tools can help ease their burdens and provide better service for children and families. These local workers should be invited to participate in the development and implementation of technology systems, instead of others making assumptions on their behalf. Their lived experience is invaluable.
State leaders can use this bulletin as an opportunity to put a framework together for local agencies to exchange data in more meaningful ways, and support investing in the technical infrastructure needed to do so across the systems they maintain. They can talk to counties about what problems they are trying to solve, or what standards and processes could help, and then put infrastructure in place to make it happen. Prioritizing this as a project would also (theoretically) help states collect better data to meet federal requirements.
Lastly, we as technology providers in this space should build solutions that prioritize integrations and data exchange to support the meaningful work of the agencies we serve. We should truly partner with one another as vendors (along with state and local agencies) to get the most effective tools possible into the hands of workers. These workers, who on top of everything else are now burdened with unprecedented high turnover and resulting caseloads, are simply trying to do great work … and also meet required compliance standards. It’s our responsibility as private and public organizations that support them to work just as hard to make the gathering, documenting, and sharing of data that facilitates both outcomes as easy as possible.
There are a ton of modular options available today that you can piece together to build a best-of-breed system. Consult our technology toolkit for human services if you need help navigating the buying journey. Learn how to plan, purchase, and implement technology that will provide immediate relief to caseworkers, while positioning your agency for future success.