To help streamline foster care caseworkers' workloads and validate their field work, Florida is giving them mobile computing devices that immediately upload crucial data in real time.

The Department of Children and Families (DCF) recently procured and distributed smartphones and laptops equipped with built-in cameras and a software program that was developed in-house by the DCF. The solution, Remote Data Capture, allows the state's more than 2,300 caseworkers to take digital images -- stamped with the date, time and GPS-marked location -- and immediately upload the information to the state's child welfare data system.

Florida appears to be the first in the nation that's enabling foster care caseworkers to digitally record their visits, according to Ramin Kouzehkanani, the DCF's CIO.

"Our goal is for the caseworker to spend more time with the child and less time doing paperwork," DCF Secretary George H. Sheldon said in a press release. "Caseworkers with mobile computing devices have more time to give children the attention and services they need to have a sense of normalcy and safety in their lives."

"Florida is the only state in which caseworkers can upload in real time information from their site visit directly into the DCF database from the field," the release said. "GPS-stamped photos taken onsite add an additional layer of integrity by ensuring every child is visited and their condition accurately documented."

That extra layer also ensures due diligence is performed by the caseworkers, as some have missed visits and made inaccurate visit recordings. This issue came to light eight years ago, when a 4-year-old girl in foster care went missing for more than a year before officials realized she'd disappeared. Her DCF caseworker hadn't made the mandated monthly visits to the girl's home, though she filed reports and told judges the girl was fine, according to Orlando's WESH.com. The missing girl -- Rilya Wilson -- has yet to be found and is presumed dead.

In the wake of that tragedy, lessons have been learned, said DCF Chief Child Advocate Jim Kallinger. And while the state's foster care caseworkers aren't mandated to use the mobile devices to digitally record their visits, Kouzehkanani is hoping it becomes a best practice.

"The caseworkers love this. They have said to us this has really been a timesaver for them," he said.

The technology is also tamperproof and adaptable, making it compatible on various smartphones, cameras and laptops, according to the state. And in the event of a stolen or lost mobile computing device, the information stored on them is securely encrypted and can't be accessed by an unauthorized user.

"This technology adds an extra layer of verification and efficiency in being able to enter the data at the site instead of doing it back at the office," Kallinger said. "They basically have a mobile office."

 

Karen Wilkinson  |  Staff Writer