Why We Do What We Do

For many of us at Child Welfare Digital Services (CWDS), the names and stories of specific children remind us of why a new Child Welfare information system matters. However, not everyone at CWDS has personally known an at-risk child who had to leave a place he or she knows — right or wrong — as “home,” or tried to help that same traumatized child adjust to a new place in the care of strangers with unfamiliar rules and expectations. Nonetheless, we share a mission to support continuous quality improvement of California’s delivery of Child Welfare Services.

Child Welfare Services encompass the following objectives:

  • Prevent abuse and strengthen families
  • Remedy the effects of abuse or neglect
  • Provide for out-of-home care for children (foster care and relative home placements)
  • Provide for permanent alternatives for children from abusive homes (adoptions, legal guardianship, Kinship Care)

Child Welfare professionals help children whose living situation has become unsafe and dangerous.  These dedicated and hard-working people either attempt to stabilize the situation into one that is safe and appropriate for the child, supporting the child’s family with resources that prevent reoccurrence of the dangerous situation, or they have to make the hard decision to move a child to place where he or she will be safe.

In 2016, there were 494,062 reported allegations of child maltreatment in California. Of those, 70,859 were substantiated. That means that in 2016, approximately 8 children out of every 1,000 children in California were victims of abuse, neglect, or exploitation.

During that same period, 53,749 were taken into “out-of-home” care. Of that number, we can expect one third to be in a permanent living situation within a year. A little over two-thirds will “achieve permanency” in two years. For the 32 percent of children in care who are between the ages of 1-5 years old, that’s nearly a lifetime.

Source: Center for Social Services Research University of California at Berkeley School of Social Welfare

Source: Center for Social Services Research University of California at Berkeley School of Social Welfare

Research shows that sustained periods of instability and uncertainty for a child can damage his or her ability to weather the rest of life’s ordinary challenges in a healthy way. Children who experience continuing trauma often find it harder to make constructive contributions to our shared future and society.

So how does a new information system help?

It might not be obvious how replacing the antiquated systems currently used to track Child Welfare Services and outcomes will make a difference to the real life children represented by these statistics. We do know more computing isn’t the answer. But freeing up dedicated and skilled Child Welfare professionals to interact and engage fully with the children and families they’re serving could be. We see and hear it in our user research now: Currently, Child Welfare professionals spend way too much time filling out forms or inputting data into disconnected and duplicative systems, just to keep track of their caseloads and meet reporting requirements.

Data management and analytics are essential to understanding and improving the ways we provide Child Welfare Services to achieve the goals of child and family safety, well-being, and permanency. A new system that is better at capturing and managing data will give Child Welfare agencies better information about what interventions have the best results. And that’s worthwhile.

But our most compelling vision for the new system we are building is that it will be technology that gets out of the way and frees up social workers to do what only they can do. That’s how we at CWDS will make a difference to real life children. When we’re successful, we’ll give their caseworkers more time to protect them from harm, to ensure that they are in safe, loving and permanent homes, or to support their families into healthy relationship.

If you would like to see what we are building, follow our progress at https://cwds.ca.gov/dashboard.  If you would like to be part of building it, watch our Job Opportunities at https://cwds.ca.gov/join_cwds.

About the Author:   Phoebe DeMund is the Service Manager for the Certification, Approval, and Licensing Service (CALS)