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Little Things Making a Big Difference in Human Services

Kurt Larrick, Assistant Director, Arlington County Department of Human Services
Kurt Larrick, Assistant Director, Arlington County Department of Human Services

Kurt Larrick, Assistant Director, Arlington County Department of Human Services

Human services agencies are not typically at the leading edge of technology innovation and implementation. We have the word “human” in our title for a reason – we work on a daily basis to strengthen, protect, and empower living, breathing people. Times change, though, and over the last decade human services organizations have increasingly embraced data and technology as not just useful, but as indispensable tools in the effort to change lives, improve systems, and strengthen communities.

  The SharePoint calendar has ensured everyone has access to the right information at all times 

Arlington County’s Department of Human Services (DHS) employs a staggering number of computer systems to manage programs and services. These include comprehensive electronic health record and case management systems, and mandated state and federal systems for managing client benefits. It’s not always about the size of the system, however; sometimes a simple solution winds up having the biggest impact.

That’s the case with a simple SharePoint calendar tool developed for DHS’s Child Welfare team, which includes Child Protective Services Intake and On-going, Foster Care, and Foster Family and Adoption Services. They work in conjunction with the Child Advocacy Center.

Child Welfare requires an on-call calendar for workers who receive information regarding calls taken by the State Hotline, respond to calls after-hours and on weekends, and complete safety checks requested by other workers. Supervisors are on-call as well for consultation on all calls to determine the worker’s response and provide guidance when a worker in on-site. The worker changes daily and the supervisor changes weekly. Previously, a calendar was created and e-mailed at the start of the month to multiple stakeholders – other Child Welfare/Child Protective Services staff and liaisons at the County’s Emergency Communications Center and Police Department – who would need to get in touch with the right person quickly in the event of an after-hours or weekend child welfare issue. When workers had to switch nights, the calendar would be updated and emailed out again (and again and again).

Using the SharePoint calendar has ensured everyone has access to the right information at all times. SharePoint allows for easy updating and sharing without resorting to emails and potential version control issues. In addition, important information such as code words for different entities, key documents, and other resources is included on the calendar site. It’s a simple solution which is making a difference in serving vulnerable children and families.

Once it was determined a SharePoint calendar was a solution worth exploring, Meghan Snyder, LCSW, who is the CPS Hotline Coordinator, met with Ahmed Abdelsalam of the County’s Department of Technology Services to flesh out the requirements. Together they developed a two layered calendar – one for those who are on-call which is visible to all stakeholders, and one for those who are on-call only if the need arises to place a child. Snyder administers the system, adding and deleting access as needed, and managing different layers of security and ability to edit.

The SharePoint calendar has improved the functioning of on-call Child Welfare responses because there are significantly fewer steps to notify people of worker and supervisor changes. Stakeholders are able to access the information in real time, and the likelihood of using outdated information – and wasting valuable time at a critical moment -- has been dramatically reduced. Additionally, because the SharePoint interface is mobile-friendly, all information is accessible from cell phones.

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