Posted Monday, September 26, 2022 by Team Northwoods

What Would You Ask if Your Child Welfare Case File Could Talk?

Behavioral assessments. Psychological reports. Safety plans. Court documents.
Medical histories. Risk factors. Protective factors. Traumatic triggers.
Previous interventions. Transitions and placements. Drug involvement.

The list of critical information in a child welfare case file can seem endless—and just keeps growing.

Have you ever wished you could ask your case file a question to find the exact information you need when you need it? You would probably ask thousands of questions. And then even more questions based on what you learn. But once you found the information, would you feel empowered to use it to make or validate decisions? Would you understand not just what happened, but why or how it happened?

This concept of being able to “talk” to your case file—and gain valuable insight from each piece of information you uncover—has been foundational to the case discovery feature of our flagship software Traverse® since the beginning.

Case Discovery-What if a case file could talk.

Case discovery uses natural language processing and machine learning to read and analyze the entire case file like a human would. This includes everything from case notes and case documents to audio and video files stored in Traverse. It presents major life events, people mentions and connections, and critical concepts related to a case, allowing caseworkers to understand a child's whole story in an easily digestible view.

Further, since Traverse reads every page of every document, all of those documents become text searchable, meaning caseworkers can use Traverse to search for information in their files much like someone would use Google to search for the menu of a new restaurant.

Focusing specifically on child welfare, here are some examples of questions workers have said they want to ask their case file, plus how Traverse helps surface relevant information to answer them. You can also find additional resources to learn more about Traverse and case discovery at the bottom of this post.

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Are there relatives or “like-kin” supports connected to this case who could care for this child?

Workers tasked with making permanency decisions have to quickly understand who can help a child, how they’re connected, and their willingness to support the family. When hundreds of people are mentioned in a case, it can feel nearly impossible to identify that one connection who can provide support exactly when and how a child needs it. The task can be so daunting that many agencies hire staff specifically to dig through huge case files on a family finding mission, a task which takes away time from outreach to those possible kinship care providers.

Traverse automates this process, pulling out every name mentioned in the case file, while pointing the worker towards the source documentation for context, so caseworkers can quickly and easily identify a family’s support ecosystem.

“I was able to locate extended family for a child who was really struggling with behaviors and unable to be stabilized in any local placements. [Traverse] helped me find and locate an extended family member who had previously had a minor relationship with the child. It allowed me to find their contact information, reach out to them, and end up placing the child in their care.”

– Chase Sims-Ekrem, Social Caseworker I, Mesa County Department of Human Services

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Over the course of this case, who has been a positive support for the family?

Beyond identifying placements or kinship care options, caseworkers also need to find people who can offer support for parents or caregivers—for example, someone who can provide transportation to and from appointments. People mentions and connections allow workers to find this information too.

When I was sitting down with a family and they were struggling to identify some supports, I was able to look through the family's history and bring up a couple of people that could help. It opened the family's eyes to their own natural supports that they may have not even realized existed.

– Ericka Sebring, Social Caseworker II, Mesa County Department of Human Services

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Has there been any history of drug involvement and to what extent?

Consider an on-call worker who needs to catch up on case history before responding to an intake report, a newly assigned caseworker visiting a family for the first time, or a supervisor preparing to mentor a team member through a tough situation. Each needs to learn about the underlying issues in a case, such as drug use, to guide what actions they take next.

Traverse shows major concepts in a case related to medical and non-medical drugs, risk factors, and protective factors, as well as specific terms that align with each one. For example, if “Non-Medical Drugs” emerges as a key concept, caseworkers can drill into any piece of content that mentions a specific term related to drug use (e.g., heroin or fentanyl) to understand what the family’s previous history has been, and the context around it.

“It's especially helpful for our on-call workers or supervisors when we're filling in and we need to jump in, but we don't know the case like the assigned worker does. Traverse really allows us to become familiar with the case and get any of the important information to be able to make a decision on the next steps.”

Amanda Hopkins, Child Protective Services Supervisor, Seneca County Children’s Services

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What do I need to know about this child’s medical or behavioral history?

Child welfare workers completing child studies, releasing information to providers, or even referring children to residential treatment centers need to access medical histories, diagnostic assessments, prescription information, behavioral and psychological reports, and more.

In addition to presenting major concepts and terms, Traverse also allows caseworkers to filter content by date or content type, see medical events that have been extracted from the case content, or even keyword search specific phrases, to access this insight in minutes. Armed with this information, they can make more confident safety decisions.

“If I need medical records, I don't have to dig through three or four files and my emails to see if I can find them. It's already loaded in Traverse.”

– Kelly Rohland, Child Protection Social Worker, Houston County Department of Human Services

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What trauma has occurred so far? What was the trigger?

For agencies embracing a trauma-informed care approach, the first step is recognizing what and when trauma has already occurred. In addition to extracting medical events, Traverse also identifies previous transitions, legal changes, and other significant events based on content and data as it enters the case.

This way caseworkers have a complete picture of the events that have taken place and caused trauma. They can also use this timeline to look for patterns or cycles of when things have happened in the past and may be likely to happen again.

“You can see the patterns or the behaviors that continue to come up in the documents that are already electronically scanned. That is really helpful for case planning, as well as working with those families where there's been a long history of child protection involvement or there's chronic neglect.”

– Shelly (Michelle) Selinger, Child & Family Manager, Carver County Health & Human Services

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What services have previously helped or failed to help this child or family?

Repeating steps that have already been taken keeps families in the system longer than necessary and negatively impacts their ability to make progress. Instead, Traverse helps workers familiarize themselves with what has already happened and what services have been provided before they got involved.

This empowers a worker to start their next conversation with a family where an investigator or previous worker left off. Instead of having to constantly get caught up, they can focus on engaging with families to ensure they receives services and supports that will truly enhance their progress.

“In our work, making those connections with the families and building that rapport is where I’m going to see the things that they are struggling with, where I need to bump up supports or services, or if they are doing well.”

– Jessica Reed, Lead Child Protection Social Worker, Houston County Department of Human Services

Divider in a blog about Traverse case discovery

Traverse does not make decisions for social workers. No software ever could (or should). Rather, it allows child welfare agencies to leverage the information and history they’ve already collected—analyzing years of information and volumes of case records to build connections that may have otherwise gone unnoticed to make well informed, more confident decisions.

Simply put, it empowers workers to identify the one thing buried in a child’s history that will help make tomorrow a better day than today.

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Additional Resources: Traverse in Child Welfare

View these resources to learn more about how Traverse can help your child welfare information unlock insight to make and validate critical decisions:

Divider in a blog about Traverse case discovery

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