ROCKINGHAM — Richmond County is one of five in North Carolina to test new technology aimed at improving communication between child-welfare workers in different counties.
The changes, says the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, will keep foster and other vulnerable children safer. Ultimately, they will centralize information in a statewide repository, reducing paperwork and streamlining the flow of information between county social services departments.
“(The system) will be a powerful tool to (insure) better outcomes for children and their families,” said Michael Becketts, DHHS assistant secretary for human services. “The new technology is part of a larger effort … to improve child-welfare services.”
The new system is part of NC FAST, rolled out in 2013 to handle distribution of food stamps.
Plagued by problems at first — it took more than a month for some families to obtain food under the new system — N.C. Families Accessing Services through Technology now helps caseworkers work with families needing food and nutrition assistance, Medicaid insurance, child care, training for employment and refugee assistance.
North Carolina has 100 counties. Five of them — Richmond, Franklin, Guilford, Rockingham and Sampson — were chosen to test new technologies. Seven other counties that helped develop the program — Buncombe, Carteret, Catawba, Chatham, Cleveland, Orange and Rowan — will be the next to implement the improvements. The state’s remaining 88 counties are to follow throughout 2018.
The state cares for more than 11,000 foster children. More than 125,000 children each year receive Child Protective Services assessments to determine abuse and/or neglect. When such children move across county lines, it can become difficult to track them in order to provide timely, consistent services.
“Leveraging this technology to standardize and improve processes” and minimize paperwork “is a critical step in tracking North Carolina’s foster children and in keeping them safer,” said Sam Gibbs, deputy secretary for technology and operations for DHHS.