Using Automation to Save Time in Child Services
Boundaryless is a consulting company providing solutions and expert resources, supporting organizations in their digital transformation. The company specializes in advanced analytics and intelligent process automation.
Kreig Fields, who works at Boundaryless as an “Innovation and Transformation Guy”, wrote this article to describe one of the automations they built with Lahiru Fernando, who is a UiPath MVP based in Sri Lanka, to help change child welfare system processes in Florida.
While you may not be involved in creating automations for child welfare, they hope this blog will provide you with some useful details on how to approach Automation for Good.
Most people speak about the importance of keeping children safe, healthy, and providing them with a place to call home. Politicians across the world have decried the current child welfare system and promised sweeping reforms, but nothing ever seems to change. We are using UiPath to change words into actions.
Kreig will step you through the process we used to create an automation which saves caseworkers time filing paperwork, and which allows caseworkers to spend more time saving children and families.
Caseworkers are required to document the services they provide. Federal regulations mandate these documents must be uploaded into the state system within 48 hours of services delivery. Failure to post files in a timely fashion can result in services being denied for reimbursement. Repeated issues can lead to loss of licenses and even shutting down the offending local agency. Federal audits are performed periodically to confirm compliance. These audits have continuously shown a lack of compliance. We'll use the next few paragraphs to understand why compliance is so elusive.
Most state child welfare systems are based on a U.S. federal design from 1997. Some still have “green screens”. Legacy systems were designed before modern considerations such as workflow optimization or even just minimizing mouse clicks.
Caseworkers may handle hundreds of documents for each case. Uploading documents is an arduous and frustrating process. The existing state systems require documents to be loaded one by one into the state system. Caseworkers must exit and reenter into the system for each document they need to upload. Additionally, different types of documents may need to be uploaded to different areas, based on obscure business rules. For example, it typically takes five hours just to upload a foster care licensing application into the state system.
Our caseworkers also face challenges just accessing the state system. The system is often down for maintenance or emergency fixes and remote access is also limited. As a work-around, caseworkers temporarily store documents locally, with an intent to upload them to the state system “when they have time,” (but they never have the time). Sometimes case workers are juggling dozens of cases and moving from crises to crises. It’s no wonder personnel turnover rates of over 40% aren't uncommon. Staff prioritize services over paperwork and most caseworkers are willing to save their documents to a local drive, yet very few are uploaded into the state system. It simply isn’t worth their effort.
Every couple of years, state system case files are audited for compliance. People are chastised, and performance improvement plans are written, but nothing ever changes.
In summary, caseworkers are being asked to upload case documents in a timely fashion, but job and system constraints prevent this.
The federal child welfare system in the U.S. was initially designed in 1997, back in the days of COBOL and green screens. Efforts are being made to modernize these systems, but this will likely take many years.
Some people have tried to just hire more caseworkers. But studies have shown that increased staffing doesn’t necessarily lead to lower staff turnover or increased job satisfaction. Hiring more workers can relieve constraints temporarily, but it doesn’t address the underlying causes of staff turnover. If we don’t take steps to improve job satisfaction, staff turnover will quickly return.
Generally, users don't prefer using the state system to process case files. Many of the workers were fresh college grads and had never seen a “green screen” before. Several caseworkers told me these antiquated systems were making them rethink their vocation (“I came to help children, not become a clerical worker!”). These caseworkers’ biggest complaint was having to store the documents in two places. Storing the documents on their local shared drive was easy enough. But then they had to post these same documents to the antiquated state system.
We decided to use UiPath to automate the process of copying documents from the SharePoint repository and posting them to the state system. We broke this down into three basic steps: grab documents from the local SharePoint repository, determine how documents needed to be posted on the state system, then mimic the user interaction needed to post the file into the state system.
We created an unattended bot which was triggered to start whenever a new file was submitted to the local SharePoint folder. This robot grabbed the new file and passed it to the UiPath Document Understanding to extract the information needed to post the file to the state system.
We handle over 100 types of documents, so we rely on a flowchart business process to simplify the decisions and document navigation required to post the file.
The posting details were determined, the automation signed onto the state system and performed the navigation steps needed to post the file. All of this was done offline without the caseworker needing to manually input. This frees the caseworker to perform meaningful, client-facing tasks. Critically, the robot meets regulatory requirements for timely posting of documents.
Once we really understood the problem and proposed solution, it was time to build and implement the solution.
Caseworkers were already using an old document management system to store their local files. We replaced this with a very simple app which stored their files to a local SharePoint repository.
We also had to build navigations to store over 160 types of documents. This navigation logic was based on document name, document type, the case it applied to, and the author. On previous projects for this customer, we had to use document understanding to extract this information. In this project, the caseworkers were already supplying this information as they stored documents in the SharePoint repository. With a few tweaks, we could get all the information we needed from SharePoint.
Before this automation, documents were stored locally but rarely made it up to the state system. Using automation, recent internal audits confirmed that 100% of new documents are currently being uploaded to the appropriate locations in the state system. In fact, a sub-project was performed to upload 30,000 old documents. It's estimated this automation will save case workers over 20,000 hours annually at this local agency. This is the equivalent of having 12 additional case workers. By using UiPath, caseworkers can now use the 20,000 hours saved to focus on helping children find families. This is an example of automation contributing to a positive impact on society.
Through analysis, and leveraging automation tools, it's impressive to see how automation can be used to save time, increase employee morale, and provide an organization with new solutions to outdated business processes.
We're fortunate to be able to contribute to the Boundaryless strategic vision of working with people across communities and organizations to create automation using UiPath technology.
We'll continue to explore additional ways to leverage automation to simplify the way work is currently being done to bring about additional benefits through innovative solutions.