By Tim Wacker, technology writer, NBN Communications
For a child experiencing psychological trauma due to family breakdown, the wheels of social services bureaucracies cannot move fast enough. Quite literally, a child in immediate need cannot wait — whether for the comforts of peanut butter or pizza, or a secure place to call home. This is the primary concern of KVC Health Systems, a private, nonprofit behavioral healthcare and child welfare headquartered in the greater Kansas City area.
Over its 45-year history, KVC has grown from a single home founded by volunteers to help at-risk boys to a comprehensive organization employing more than 1,300 committed employees based at 33 locations across four Midwestern states. By providing in-home family support, foster care, adoption, behavioral healthcare, youth substance abuse treatment, and psychiatric hospitals, KVC touches the lives of nearly 60,000 children and families each year.
It is a formidable mission to fulfill. Social care is delivered face-to-face, as KVC emphasizes in their organizational motto and passion: people matter. Yet in a system that must integrate and coordinate families, schools, courts, healthcare services, and state and county agencies, a child’s needs can easily slip through the cracks. To insure that doesn’t happen, KVC felt the need to streamline an information processing system by going digital and mobile. Starting with an in-house system of scanning and storing paper documents, KVC’s IT team quickly recognized the need for a more comprehensive systems-oriented solution.
A simple foster care management case illustrates the task. Onboarding a child into the foster care system requires a least 50 documentation forms alone. As the case history builds through court findings, family histories, psychiatric and healthcare reviews, school assessments, trauma assessments, etc., the average foster care child accumulates 500 or more different documented records. This documentation must be readily accessible to case workers in the field in order to be effective and timely in assessing and administering to the needs of the child. Multiplying 500 by 60,000 comes to roughly 30 million different document records for KVC to manage on an ongoing basis.
To meet the challenge, KVC turned to an electronic records management system by Laserfiche. By scanning existing documentation into the system KVC staff starting building a centralized electronic records repository that allows for instant retrieval of any document it contains. The system is now allowing KVC to leverage those electronic images in ways never possible with paper.
For example, electronic forms allow information about clients, new and existing, to be inputted directly into the new records repository without the need for paper or a scanner. Another module called Workflow then distributes that information to the required people at the required times. Instead of requiring employees to copy and carry paperwork to and from field workers and foster homes, information now flows seamlessly to all the people and offices involved in each case.
These and other software driven business process management improvements result in a 30 to 40 percent time savings from previous paper filing procedures. Case workers can now scan court documents, capture emails, and file snapshots of websites and have all this documentation accessible from any location with a computer or mobile device. They can share the files with families, adoptive parents, foster parents, and judges electronically.
“Technology can never replace the decision making we have to do,” says Lonnie Johnson, KVC’s vice president of information technology. “But what it can do is replace the repetitive tasks that we have to do. It can allow us more time to focus on the customer.”
Those customers are mostly traumatized kids and struggling families, folks for whom timely help can make the difference between adjusting or being further traumatized when confronted by stressful circumstances, an all too common event in the world of foster care. KVC staff are trained in trauma therapy, which depends on timely intervention to reduce the upset and challenge that play such a large role in the lives of foster children and families. It is there that Laserfiche he has provided the biggest improvements in KVC’s operations, Johnson says.
Each foster care case, both family and child, can involve teachers, counselors, hospital staff, and social workers who coordinate to provide the mosaic of services needed to help stabilize and improve lives. Key to that effort is information which each of the professionals involved in these services now accesses instantly through KVC’s Laserfiche system.
Lindsey Stephenson, Director of Integrated Services, tells the story concerning a new case worker in a field meeting with the child’s middle school in a rural part of Kansas. During the meeting the child had a trauma incident that caused him to become distraught. The case worker was readily able to access the case history electronically to discover the child was comforted by peanut butter or pizza and the problem was quickly remedied.
“Who would have thought that something as simple as peanut butter could make such a difference? But it did,” Stephenson says. “But it was much more than the peanut butter. It was instantly having an accurate understanding of the trauma history of the child and appropriate techniques that are used to preempt a crisis. That information is priceless to a worker or a school and to a foster parent, and being able to access that instantly is priceless to all who work with that individual and to the individual as well.”
KVC’s success has translated into wider recognition. During National Adoption Week, it was able to place 75 foster children into permanent adoptive homes. The non-profit has also been endorsed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation as a national best-practice organization and accredited by The Joint Commission, considered the gold standard in healthcare. All the accolades are wonderful, Johnson and Stephenson say, but the best reward is being able to spend more time helping people and doing the job they love.
“We don’t go into social work to do paperwork,” Stephenson says. “We go into social work to work with people.”