Completing the picture in child welfare

Over the last several weeks, one segment of government technology projects has caught the attention of mainstream media outlets from California to Columbus, Ohio. Computer systems designed to dole out benefits and entitlements have long-known to be outdated. And the economy, which has led to an increased reliance on mainframe systems that distribute food stamps, Medicaid, Social Security and other cash assistance, has added pressure to systems already struggling and often facing backlogged cases.

In California, the Employment Development Department came under fire last week from a state panel asking why the department had failed to send out several thousand unemployment checks on time after Congress extended the program several more weeks in January.

Also last week, the Columbus Dispatch reported that the Ohio’s Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System (SACWIS) was not allowing local Children Service agencies to change outdated, incomplete or incorrect information on cases. According to the paper, information change requests must be sent to the state, where they are reviewed and, if appropriate, entered into the SACWIS.

“If you look at workforce systems, they are the oldest systems in the states,” Kimberley Williams, Vice President of Global Marketing for Cúram Software, said in an interview with CivSource. “So when you look at those systems and what they’re being asked to do, it’s virtually impossible.”

Cúram makes commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) social enterprise software, focused exclusively on needs-based or contributions-based programs in health and human services, workforce services, and social security organizations. The company’s latest offering touches on some of the same issues in Ohio.

Cúram for Child Support Enforcement is the final piece in a suite of solutions that provide the most robust, fully integrated offering available, Ms. Williams said.

“Child welfare is critical and costly,” she said. “There are many factors – counseling, community partners, foster care, medical treatment – child welfare involves a lot of outside collaboration. So a lot of what Cúram is bringing to the table is not simply how these system can be compliant, but it gives these organizations the ability to provide the best care for children and tools they can use to collaborate.”

“The question becomes, can you match up those histories to provide a better picture?”

Cúram for Child Support Enforcement compliments other offerings, such as Cúram for Child Welfare, Income Support, Child Care, Youth Services, and Adult Services, according to the company.

A growing but defendable threat

According to Columbia University’s National Center for Children in Poverty, nearly 14 million, or 19 percent, of all children in the United States live in families with income below the federal poverty level. And in the United States, approximately one-third of the children have a parent living outside of the household, representing over 23 million children.

Despite the politicizing of assistance benefits like food stamps, unemployment insurance, Medicaid and others, one thing most people can agree on is supporting child welfare programs, Ms. Williams pointed out.

“The unfortunate reality of it is, that some of the most needy kids are entitled to child support, but not collecting it. And this fact is exacerbating welfare programs,” she said. “Also think of it from a human perspective – people don’t want to know their governments are failing when it comes to children.”

But in March of 2009, The US Department of Health and Human Services made nearly $1 billion in new resources available to the states to establish, enforce, collect and distribute child support. A provision in the Recovery Act reversed a 2005 rule and provides a federal match of 66 percent for state administrative costs of carrying out child support enforcement activities. After the first quarter of ARRA reporting, states had received over $46 million in child support enforcement funds.

Cúram has related projects in Louisiana, New York City, Indiana and Utah. And recently, the company was hired to provide a single information system to child welfare agencies in Ontario, Canada.

The government of Ontario has 53 Children’s Aid Societies (CASs) who are responsible for monitoring child welfare across the province. But the agency was lacking a centralized information system that could standardize business processes and track outcomes. But the agency also new they didn’t want to delve into a large-scale custom solution, preferring a commercial off-the-shelf instead.

Cúram was awarded the RFP and within eighteen months a COTS enterprise solution that would support Ontario’s ongoing needs through an open architecture was up and running.

“Implementing a single integrated system designed specifically for child welfare outcomes was the best way to serve the needs of children, families, and the government,” said Deborah Tobin, Single Information System (SIS) Project Manager for the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies.

Despite the continued problems faced by legacy systems, straining under the demand of a poor economy, Ms. Williams said Cúram was focused on helping solve the problem.

“We are solely dedicated to this market – It’s becoming an imperative for states to invest in these kinds of systems.”

“Can you match up those histories to provide a better picture”