CWS/CMS Crashes Child Welfare System
Over protests and warnings from workers and the union (see the July issue of the Dragon), the state is pressuring counties to fully implement the Child Welfare Services/Case Management System.
The Dragon spoke with workers from all over the state. Even small counties that had manageable caseloads have been thrown into crisis with the introduction of the system. At best, the few workers with good typing and computer skills, who feel they have mastered the system, report a 30% drop in productivity. The majority have found the system completely unmanageable.
Its a lot of point and click, point and click, point and click, commented Alameda County dependency investigator Paula Glodowski, as she demonstrated one of the major complaints: how entering a simple case notation can take a dozen mouse clicks, and a lot of time tapping the desk, while the computer accesses files and opens and closes screens. She sees the system as one more thing preventing her from working with her clients. I like to surf the net on my computer at home, but thats not what I got my degree for. My job is to work with kids, not be a computer programmer.
We can no longer do social work. All I do is put out fires, stated Tulare County child welfare worker Arlene Nanez. According to Nanez, CWS/CMS has caused a back-up of over 600 referrals in Tulare County since June. Foster care is six weeks behind. Normally, were up to date. Last year I only had four cases I was unable to close on time. That was for the entire year. Since we introduced CWS/CMS in June, I have been late on 16 cases. People are going out on stress leave left and right. Out of 18 social workers, four are out on stress leave, and normally no one is ever out on stress in Tulare. People are walking around the office with headaches and upset stomachs. They cant eat. They get so stressed out they lay down on the floor. People are working overtime and not putting it on their time cards just to try and stay current.
She echoes the litany of complaints that workers from all over the state have cited: The computer goes down nearly every day and you lose hours of work. You get error messages and the manual doesnt explain them. You call the IBM help desk in Boulder and either people arent there or they dont understand what you are talking about. I called and said that I was trying to move a child from an ER [emergency response] case to a continuing case, and they didnt understand what that meant.
Alameda County dependency investigator Michelle Love
was more optimistic. She has seen the system improve. She reported that
crashes and losing work arent as common as when the county first
went online. Its just part of the job. I can see how it will
help. It has already helped me do reports.
Alameda County emergency response worker Randy Morris also believes that the system is getting better and is willing to suspend judgment on the outcome, hoping that the major problems can be worked out. But one of his concerns is that he is routinely forced to enter incorrect data to make the system work. Ive learned that to move around the system you have to manipulate and lie to it. For example, I may be investigating a family with a number of children, and several may be living in another state. When they pop up on the screen, I cant close the screen until I enter the date I interviewed each child. So I have to make up a date and say I saw the child, and then enter in narrative that the child lives out of state and I didnt see him. Morris also finds it difficult to fix key stroke errors. For these reasons, Morris questions the validity of the systems data for the last six months.
Alameda County has adopted a cautious attitude toward CWS/CMS, allowing workers to ease into the system. The county has lowered caseloads, attempting to make the transition more manageable.
Alameda and Contra Costa counties are also using clerks
to enter a lot of the data. However, this approach has produced less than
favorable results. According to Morris, no one was prepared for how slowly
the system would work.
Morris isnt the only one holding his breath. Deborah Ramirez is a supervisor at the Lakewood emergency response command post in Los Angeles County. Her office was one of the first to go online. Hotline workers at her office enter the information from the telephone into the computer, but what used to take 30 or 40 minutes under the old AB60 system now takes an hour or more, even for proficient workers. Before CWS/CMS, keeping a caller on hold for more than 30 minutes was considered unacceptable. Now callers routinely wait an hour or two before a screener can answer. What if someone sees a kid being hit, and calls us instead of the police, and gets put on hold for an hour. The child could be killed in that time, Ramirez exclaimed. And entry of the information in the computer is just the beginning. When Ramirez arrives at work at 5 p.m. she finds referrals processed at 2 p.m. that still havent been assigned to a worker.
The overall sentiment expressed by workers we spoke with was: If something is not done soon, a child is going to die, and they are going to pin the blame on a worker.
Los Angeles County has already experienced two near tragedies because of the system. In one case, emergency response worker Joel Geffen received a referral from a nurse reporting that a medically fragile child was at high risk and needed a worker to go out immediately to evaluate whether the parents, both minors, could care for the child. Geffen took the call and entered it into the CWS/CMS computer. I was really concerned that the child might die of respiratory failureso I saved the write-up and called in the next day to check. The printer had jammed and the report never printed out, so one of the workers re-entered the report on the old system, the AB60the same system the county wants the workers to stop using.
In another case, the police took the parents of a child into custody, left the child with a neighbor, and referred the case to emergency response. The case didnt come out of the printer until several days later. When the worker finally got the case , it turned out the neighbor had a history of child abuse. (Fortunately, the child was okay.)
Another problem that worries workers is that not only
does the system force them to enter bad information, but there is quite
a bit of potential liability attached to that information. On some
screens there is a field for perpetrator, and we cant
close the screen or save data until we enter a name, so a lot of times
were forced to enter the mothers name, a worker stated.
The system then automatically prints out a referral that is supposed to
be sent to the police department. At present, the workers routinely throw
out all these printouts, but one can only imagine the consequence if the
automatic referral to police function is implemented.
Not all counties have bowed to the pressure to adopt CWS/CMS. After intense lobbying by union rep Tom Abshere and social workers chapter president John Reyes, Fresno County decided it would wait until the problems were solved before bringing CWS/CMS online.