The computer system -- designed to help child welfare efforts -- is instead frustrating workers, delaying payments to some foster parents and complicating state efforts to escape federal oversight.
(Tribune News Service) – Workers charged with making sure Michigan's most vulnerable children are safe from harm gave state lawmakers an earful Tuesday about a $61-million computer system they say is far from functional, nine months after implementation.
"We're spending a lot more time in the office, on the computer, and not where we need to be, seeing children and assuring safety," Rachael Wineland, a child protective services worker with the state Department of Human Services in Shiawassee County told a House Appropriations subcommittee.
Bill VanDriessche, a children's service specialist from Iosco County, told lawmakers "the system will simply not work properly." Workers sometimes can't access background information to assess the risk of a referral and are told to send a "help ticket" to computer workers, which can take two to three days to get resolved, he said.
For a child, "two or three days could be a matter of life or death," VanDriessche testified.
The Free Press reported in January that persistent problems with the Michigan SACWIS (Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System), a new computer system designed to help child welfare efforts in DHS, are instead frustrating workers, delaying payments to some foster parents and complicating state efforts to escape federal oversight.
At the time, and again in testimony Tuesday, department officials acknowledged problems with the system -- especially early on -- but said they are the types that can be expected when introducing any new system and officials have been working to fix them through improved training and a series of fixes.
"There's an enormous learning curve," DHS deputy director Steve Yager testified Tuesday. "A lot of the issues are ... training issues."
But the workers who testified disputed that and Rep. Mike McCready, R-Bloomfield Hills, said top department officials need to shift their emphasis away from fixing code and more towards solving the actual problems workers are experiencing.
"These children are helpless and we need to do everything we can," McCready said. "We need to help you get this fixed, somehow."
Also testifying today were DHS workers Darren Ford of Wayne County and Nikki Cole and Dan Kuchan of Ottawa County. Ford is a foster care worker and the others work in child protective services, Holman said.
The system, which is mandated by the federal government and built by Unisys, came online at the end of April. Workers say it is too slow and clunky. State officials say reports do take longer to complete, but that's because the system captures far more data, as required by the federal government.
The state's foster care system is under the oversight of a federal judge in Detroit as a result of a 2006 lawsuit brought by the New York-based watchdog organization, Children's Rights. The group says having an effective computer system is one of the keys to settling the case and the state recently withdrew its motion seeking to get out from judicial oversight early.
©2015 the Detroit Free Press. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC
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