State budgets, heavily impacted by COVID-19 and the resulting economic fallout, are going to be tight this year. Instead of cutting important child welfare services, agencies should determine if there are ways to become more efficient in how they operate.
Technology can be a powerful tool for child welfare agencies to move the field forward while also saving money. In the nearly four years since we launched Binti, we’ve launched modern, mobile-friendly technology in more than 100 child welfare agencies in 15 states, serving over 17% of child welfare in the United States. We’ve gained a lot of insight, and want to share our lessons learned and ideas for how agencies can use technology in 2020 to get through this period.
Preparation for potential surge in children entering care and to prepare for Family First
Many jurisdictions came into 2020 with a critical shortage of foster families, which is now being exacerbated by a potential “triple whammy,” creating an even more urgent need for families:
- The potential for an increase in abuse and neglect-related removals as states start re-opening
- A slowdown in the licensing process for new foster homes during the pandemic
- The need to shift away from group homes and toward more use of foster homes due to the Family First Prevention Services Act.
In addition to the benefits of having enough families for youth and complying with Family First, placing more youth in families instead of group homes saves money, given the significantly higher cost of congregate care compared with family-based care.
Technology can be used to continue and even accelerate the process of licensing families, even during social distancing. Families can complete their application online via laptop or mobile phone, e-sign documents, and complete online training. References can complete their paperwork online. Workers can also complete their paperwork online and reports can be generated automatically for supervisors.
Before COVID-19, Binti’s online Licensing Module was shown to increase the number of families approved by 60% per year for agencies. During the pandemic, agencies and families are leveraging the online functionality more than ever. In March through May across the agencies using Binti, 2,715 online training orientations have been completed; 3,560 online applications were filled out, e-signed and submitted to agencies by families applying to be foster/adoptive families; and 115,171 online case notes were submitted by social workers.
Social worker time saver
Across the 100-plus child welfare agencies we work with, agency staff report spending 50% of their time working with children and families and 50% of their time logging their work. This is both frustrating for staff and also very inefficient.
Modern software can save significant social worker time by eliminating the need to enter information more than once, empowering and reminding families to upload required documents, automatically generating reports, and more. Agencies working with Binti estimate time savings of 20 to 40% of social workers’ time.
Higher federal reimbursement rate
If a child is in a home on an emergency basis for more than 90 days, that agency loses federal funding for that child. For many counties and states, this results in paying significant all-county or all-state funds until the family is approved.
Moving the process online can dramatically shorten the time to approval. When agencies launch with Binti’s Licensing Module, on average agencies approve families 20% faster in the first year and then another 40% faster in the second year. As an example, when one large urban jurisdiction launched with Binti, they were approving families in 301 days on average and losing out on tens of thousands of dollars every month in federal funding. We recently looked at numbers with them, and they now average 98 days to approval. Just for this one reason, this agency and many others save far more per year than they spend on Binti.
Support staff and family safety/health
While we hope the COVID-19 epidemic ends as quickly as possible, there is the threat of additional waves, and even as we re-open, there will be benefits to staff and family safety to socially distance when possible for quite some time – especially for those with increased risk factors.
Technology that empowers staff to do their work remotely online, via laptop and mobile phone, will increase safety for staff and families, and increase productivity. This also mitigates risk for other emergency situations that may arise in the future.
Technology can maximize federal participation by improving IV-E eligibility
Many agencies struggle to systematically apply federal standards for IV-E eligibility, which significantly impacts the use of scarce state and local funds. As states implement the new prevention activities under Family First, they will face additional challenges in tracking prevention services in order to secure federal funding. Outdated technology has hindered the ability of states to examine their data and improve their performance. It also takes up valuable staffing resources to learn and manage multiple systems for information. Modern software offers a solution to this, allowing states to maximize eligibility accuracy as well as maximize funding.
Keeping kids connected to their school and community of origin
States currently spend significant resources – staff and money – transporting children to their school of origin and to visitation with their families far away from their foster home. In many states where we’ve spoken with leaders, social workers spend a surprising amount of time transporting youth themselves. One small state we work with estimated they spend about $3 million per year transporting children to their school and community of origin. Another county we work with spends about $1 million per year. Not all states and counties have calculated this cost in dollars, but the cost to youth who must change schools and move far from their communities is great.
Technology can dramatically help by increasing the number of families approved, giving the agency more options for families as well as by matching youth and families based on geography to keep children close to their community and school of origin. Binti’s Licensing Module approves 60% more families/year and has geography-based matching.
Modern software can help states launch new state child welfare systems while saving money
Most states are spending significant budget dollars per year maintaining their legacy state systems. Most state systems were built 15-plus years ago and many states are interested in modernizing to better accommodate their current workflows, save social worker time, have online portals for families and more. While historically building a new system from scratch means spending significant money up front, modern off-the-shelf software can be used to give states a new modern system for the cost of their existing maintenance budgets. This is because off-the-shelf software is used across many states and therefore, states can share the cost of the system.
Felicia Curcuru is the CEO of Binti. Barrett Johnson is director of business development at Binti, and a former program director on child welfare for San Francisco.