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Illinois IT Continues to Refine Mobile Caseworker App

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services’ award-winning Always Stay Konnected app is continually upgraded with new user-friendly technology to help children, families and staff in the field.

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) continues to refine its award-winning mobile caseworker app.

The app, called Always Stay Konnected (ASK), began as a pilot program in 2016 before becoming available for all DCFS staff in January 2017. Now in its second iteration, the ASK app is designed to meet the needs of investigators and case workers in the field. The mobile caseworker application received recognition last week at the CIO 100 Symposium and Awards Ceremony for using IT in an innovative way.

Jim Daugherty, the Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT) CIO serving DCFS, said the app is meant to be an extension of the existing Web-based case management system. Daugherty said it was designed with five goals in mind: child safety, worker safety, security, efficiency and data quality.

Daugherty described life for case workers before the app, which involved printing out anything they thought they might need in the field and physically carrying the papers with them, sorting through documentation as necessary. The mobile app reduces the need to carry paper, at the same time giving staffers in the field more information on hand. 

The app also encrypts the data it handles at every step, starting from when it’s first keyed into the phone. Daugherty said security was at the forefront of the developers’ priorities from the onset of the project. One notable quality of the app is that the development has been done in-house by staff developers, with continued modernization being assisted by consulting staff from outside the project.

As a result, Daugherty said the cost to stand up the pilot in 2016 and the continual development of ASK is a frugal endeavor. Essentially, it uses the same resources dedicated by DCFS and DoIT for the case management system.

Currently, ASK is a voluntary app, and doesn't require case worker use just yet. Still, early usage numbers have been high, with 250 to 300 unique users daily. Daughtery noted that their data shows 70 percent of DCFS staff use it at least once a month. 

Mandated usage will start for investigators within the next quarter. In addition, DCFS has been widening the scope of eligible users for ASK to include nonprofits, which conduct a high volume of case work for Illinois, he said.

The development of ASK is ongoing, with a list of post-pilot additions that includes the ability for multiple photo uploads, notetaking capabilities, talk to text, case notifications, a person search function and more.

“We’ve added more and more of the case information for [staff] to be able to look at,” Daugherty said. “As they were identifying what pieces of information were most important to them, we’ve been adding that to the case information that’s shared through the app.”

Handwritten notes are still taken in the field because of the level of comfort it provides to the families that department staff encounter. The notations are then rewritten into the case management system, with the ultimate goal being for staff to eventually just take notes using the app.

Marc Smith, acting director of DCFS, said in a press release he is also committed to augmenting the app with new technologies that allow the department to enhance its focus on the residents it serves.

“This mobile app is used to retain updated photos of our children in the event of an emergency or a missing child, and it allows our workers to quickly enter and retrieve critical case information while they are in the field,” he said. “We are proud to be the first state government agency in Illinois to create and deploy a large-scale enterprise mobile app that supports our front-line staff to protect the children of Illinois.”

Patrick Groves was a staff writer for Government Technology from 2019 to 2020.
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