Ontario children’s aid workers centralize client information

Ontario children’s aid caseworkers in three pilot sites are hoping the implementation of an integrated Web-based system from Curam Software and IBM early next year will expedite information-sharing.

The pilot sites include Simcoe County Children’s Aid Society in Barrie, Renfrew Family and Children’s Services in Pembroke, and Timiskaming Child and Family Services in Kirkland Lake. If the six-month test phase is successful, the system will be rolled out to other children’s aid organizations across Ontario, pending further funding from the provincial government.

The Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS), which represents Ontario’s 53 child welfare agencies, has long been lobbying for the development of a single comprehensive online system that centralizes information on children at risk. Jeanette Lewis, OACAS’s executive director, said she is confident the system’s capabilities will translate into improved child protection in abuse investigations and adoption proceedings.

“The government will have very good reporting from children’s aid societies. There will be much better capacity to benchmark on a more comprehensive level,” she said.

The new system builds on an existing piece of Curam software developed for managing human services, and used commonly by child welfare agencies, seniors’ services, and workers’ insurance organizations.

However, Nancy Brown Andison, managing partner of IBM‘s Ontario Public Sector division, said the need for such a system transcends social service enterprise; IT managers and CIOs handling vast amounts of detailed case information can benefit from this concept.

Last year, OACAS selected IBM to customize the Curam software to the specifications of a sampling of its IT users across Ontario. Andison feels that IBM’s involvement is consistent with its commitment to international social security.

“IBM puts a special emphasis on providing management systems to improve how the social services segment delivers to its clientele,” she said.

IBM began its integration based on critical outcomes stipulated by a contract between OACAS and the provincial government.

Given the Web-based system and the confidential nature of child welfare cases, security is of paramount concern.  The government contract mandates both privacy-impact and threat-risk analyses at three stages of the system’s development. Data is also safeguarded internally, as in the case of separated parents whose respective information must be kept discrete.

The extent of the test phase’s success also depends on aggregated child welfare reports becoming more efficient, and will largely determine how quickly Ontario’s children’s aid societies sign on. Andison estimated a rollout process of a few years.

OACAS chose the three test sites from many that responded to a call for pilot agencies. Provincial funding allowed for a maximum of 500 end users, so the association favoured sites of small to moderate size. Most sites currently use one of two major data systems. OACAS therefore chose examples of both, to evaluate the new system’s data conversion capabilities. Other selection criteria included language capacity and geography; at least one pilot site conducts business in French and English, and each represents a distinct region of Ontario.

Lewis said that OACAS’s collaboration with IBM illustrates how to effectively develop any new system with workplace users: emphasize involvement of sub-managers and caseworkers — not just IT managers.

“In the end, it has to work for the frontline worker if it’s going to work well,” Lewis said. “Involve the service arm as well as the IT arm.”

OACAS and IBM are both hopeful that a single integrated Canadian system is not too far behind. However, because child protection services are constitutionally mandated by province, it will take considerable collaboration for this ideal to be realized.

 “This first phase is a major step forward,” Andison said.

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