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Illinois Adopts Natural Language Processing Tech for Child Welfare

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services has adopted Augintel’s Natural Language Processing software to help child welfare caseworkers gain enhanced insights on the cases they manage.

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The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) is now using Natural Language Processing (NLP) software to better serve children’s needs through enhanced data insights.

The agency has started using Augintel’s NLP software to help child welfare caseworkers, supervisors and private agency provider staff better interpret and leverage narrative data about cases.

The new tech is saving caseworkers an estimated 20 percent in time spent on administrative tasks.

Julie Barbosa, chief deputy director of strategy and performance execution, explained in a written response that the software allows staff to more easily pull information from narrative fields.

The tool is accessible to caseworkers and their supervisors. Those in other roles, such as quality assurance specialists, clinical staff and data stewards, will have levels of access to the tool that are consistent with their access to the information in the case management system.

This tool can help users in a variety of ways depending on their role. For example, caseworkers could use it to get up to date on family cases that have been transferred to them, or to write court reports prior to hearings. Supervisors can identify trends in cases across workers. Another notable example is that the statewide administrator for deaf and blind services can identify families that need support rather than waiting to be notified by caseworkers.

Before using this technology, DCFS used a combination of analyzing administrative data and using a sample of cases for qualitative case reviews.

"Reading all of the notes word for word is very time consuming, especially when the reader is trying to find a specific piece of information," Barbosa said.

The effort is part of a larger agencywide modernization initiative to increase efficiency. Barbosa noted that the tech can be used with the state’s current Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System and will be able to integrate with the new Illinois Connect system.

The agency was willing to implement a tool while in the process of modernization efforts because the software required minimal time and effort for integration into the state’s legacy case management system, Barbosa explained.

The change management plan to implement this tool involves about six months of training it to establish the Illinois Model, which involves teaching the system the state's terminology, acronyms and common phrases, Barbosa said.

This training process was followed by a rollout to around 7,500 users over seven months. Champions were identified from initial groups to provide ground support, obtain user feedback and work with Augintel staff as needed. Notably, the tool does not require any additional data entry. The state is still in the process of fully implementing the tool.

As Barbosa explained, she initially thought the tool was primarily to be used to search specific words or terms within a case, but she was “pleasantly surprised” to learn about additional functions. For example, the search function helps with day-to-day work, while the queries function helps to assess system-level trends or changes for things like case planning.

To measure the impact of NLP software, DCFS will explore tool use and assess trends over time, both positive and negative. She noted that additional metrics may be developed in the future upon a fuller implementation.

Editor's note: Julie Barbosa's name and title were corrected.
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.