Foster children and teenagers are among the most vulnerable populations in the United States. Surveys show that there are more than 430,000 adolescents in the foster care system today. May is National Foster Care Month, so we’re showcasing customer organizations that are dedicated to helping foster children. We explore the complexities of the foster care system and how technology can enable organizations to expand services, helping a larger number of foster children find permanent homes and positioning them for success as they grow.
Keeping the Focus on Children
The foster system plays an important role in many families’ lives, offering necessary care and services for children when their parents, for various reasons, cannot. Traditionally, the system has been complex and difficult to navigate, in addition to being resource-drained. Caseworkers typically take on more cases than their capacity, and are required to process and manage extensive paperwork and documentation for seemingly normal tasks like enabling a child to play on a sports team.
According to a 2017 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report, the number of children in foster care continues to increase. At the same time, the country faces a well-documented shortage of social workers and families looking to adopt.
Digitizing Case Files
Recently, nonprofit organization KVC Behavioral Health transformed the way that they managed children’s documents in order to lighten the administrative burden usually placed on caseworkers. This allowed social workers to keep their focus on the organization’s mission: to enrich and enhance the lives of children and families. The organization—which provides foster care and welfare services to more than 4,500 children in 33 counties across Kansas—used a Laserfiche records management system to digitize its case files. Case files used to comprise up to 13, six-inch binders per child.
As a result of digitizing case management work:
- Caseworkers don’t need to haul boxes of files to the courthouse. Caseworkers can instead log into a portal via a mobile device and pull up necessary documents wherever they are needed.
- Electronic documents are now searchable and easily retrieved. Workers don’t have to spend days manually locating documents in binders.
- Information is accessible to authorized external personnel. State auditors, judges and attorneys can access documents needed through an online portal.
This instant access to information has helped with everything from audits—a frequent occurrence in the foster care system—to comforting children. During a field meeting at a middle school, a child became distraught; the child’s caseworker was able to immediately access the child’s case history to find that the behavior was due to trauma, and the child could be comforted by having a secure place to call home.
Empowering Caseworkers and Families
KVC Behavioral Health is just one example of how an organization is reclaiming time for its workers to work directly with children and their families, to solve problems and provide the best possible service rather than push paper.
In Arkansas, New Beginning Children’s Homes (NBCH) is another organization that helps children and families in the foster care system. A unique aspect to the NBCH mission: It aims to keep siblings in the foster care system together, ideally providing them with a long-term family placement with the eventual goal of adoption or reuniting with their birth family. Among the services it provides, NBCH offers onsite learning for local low-income families as well as the foster community.
Bringing a new child into NBCH’s case management database used to be a laborious, manual process. Caseworkers from the Department of Human Services (DHS) needed to fill out 52 pages worth of paperwork. Using Laserfiche Cloud, the organization digitized this long packet of paperwork into a streamlined electronic form.
Capturing this information digitally allows NBCH to perform tasks like email caseworkers, make doctors’ appointments and set up day care all through a single, centralized case management system.
Additionally, foster parents can complete electronic weekly behavioral logs which are automatically routed to their DHS caseworker. These automated processes help to eliminate time-intensive, tedious paperwork and free up caseworkers’ time to work directly with children and families. As a result:
- NBCH is able to connect more children with families faster. The time to open a new foster home and place a child has been reduced from about a year down to two months.
- Audits no longer require all-hands-on-deck. All information is digital, centralized and easily searched and retrieved.
- Workers can run reports on children’s behavioral logs. Leveraging reporting and analytics tools, NBCH can identify patterns or red flags and adjust programming accordingly.
- Operational bottlenecks can be identified and eliminated. Electronic forms reporting tools allow staff to take a high-level analysis of the placement process.
Foster care organizations that leverage the power of technology can free their caseworkers of burdensome paperwork and administrative tasks. Employees can then focus more energy on foster children who need their help.