Trumbull Children Services pilot program leads to greater use of technology

By Ed Runyan


In the coming months, about 50 Trumbull County Children Services caseworkers will begin using notebook-style computers to remotely enter case notes for families they work with into a statewide database.

Tim Schaffner, executive director, said the main purpose of the project is to improve efficiency — something he experienced when he introduced such devices to employees at Warren’s Valley Counseling when he was director there.

Schaffner reported at a recent Children Services Board meeting on a pilot program involving five children services caseworkers who were given the computers and asked to use them for field work.

Internet accessibility was a problem, so officials are trying a different Internet provider. But where accessibility wasn’t an issue, “the devices worked well,” Schaffner said.

Furthermore, reports from other counties using them, such as Hamilton County, have indicated they are beneficial, he said.

Caseworkers who visit families also sometimes have court hearings, so there can be times while waiting for a hearing that caseworkers could enter case notes into the devices.

Such workers also can enter the notes from their cars shortly after a visit when their memories are fresh, or during the visit, Schaffner said.

It takes experience to know when typing on a device during a visit with a family is appropriate and when it might interfere with communication and observations.

Doctors, for example, sometimes enter information into a computer during visits with patients, he noted.

But getting notes into a device during or soon after a visit with a client is beneficial compared with the method that has been used for decades — coming back to the office at the end of the day and typing such notes into the database from a computer at the worker’s desk — Schaffner said.

The ultimate goal is to provide workers with more time to spend with clients, he said.

“People are sometimes concerned about it at first,” he said of transitioning to the new technology. “But they later learn to love it.”

A 2011 review of Trumbull County Children Services practices and procedures turned up problems with the timeliness of case notes being entered into the state’s Automated Child Welfare Information System.

The review was conducted by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services to examine the factors that may have contributed to the rape of a child in the agency’s custody by her biological parents.

The review found that case workers had not placed their notes into the database in a timely fashion in some of the cases reviewed, including the case involving the raped child.

Children Services officials have described a number of improvements in policy and procedure that were instituted after the rape occurred, including more timely filing of case notes.

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