Casebook: The Power of Social Networking Technology to Change Policy, Practice and Management

Article excerpt

It is virtually impossible to overstate the extent to which the Internet has changed personal and commercial life. Since 1995, when the Netscape browser first came into wide use, Internet use has climbed from 14 percent of the American adult population to 79 percent (http://www.pevvintemet.org/Static-Pages/Trend-Data/Internet-Adoption.aspx).

If the first Internet revolution was its wide adoption as a personal and business platform, then the second Internet revolution has undoubtedly been the recent explosion in Web 2.0 and social networking technologies. Facebook went live at Harvard in 2004. Today it has 600 million users worldwide and estimated annual revenues of S2 billion. YouTube launched in 2005. By May 2010 it reported receiving 2 billion views per day. Twitter opened to the public in 2006 and now has 200 million users worldwide.

These technologies have changed how people lead their social lives, fundamentally altered marketing and communications, played a supporting role in several watershed political uprisings in the Middle East, and transformed the character of politics in America.

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They have also had an enormous impact on how private-sector businesses operate. According to a series of studies by McKinsey and Company on the impact of Web 2.0 on major corporations, 69 percent of businesses that have begun to use Web 2.0 technologies report "measurable business benefits" such as reduced costs, improved employee satisfaction, better knowledge access and better revenue (http://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/ How_companies_are_benefiting_from_ Web_20_McKinsey_Global_Survey_ Results_2432). Harvard Business School Professor John Quelch estimates that Internet-related industries employ about 3 million Americans (whose wages total S300 billion) and generate close to half a trillion dollars in direct and indirect economic activity (http:// hbswk.hhs.edu/item/6268.html).

While the private sector has raced ahead in adopting these technologies, public human service agencies and providers have continued to fall further and further behind. This is not because those in human services do not want access to the best technology available. It is, in large part, because policy and fiscal constraints, powerful financial disincentives for change, and constraining procurement processes have frustrated efforts to implement technology innovation in an effective way.

A new approach in child welfare called Casebook, supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, has helped spur a growing conversation about how technology innovation and Web 2.0 tools can genuinely transform policy, management and practice in human services.

Like many human service fields, child welfare suffers from the volatile mix of high caseloads and information management technology that doesn't meet user needs. There are a few more than 3 million referrals to state child protective services agencies annually, and at any time more than 400,000 children are in foster care (http://www. childwelfare.gov/pubs/factsheets/foster.pdf#page=3).

Providing services to these children and their families is a complex undertaking for even the most seasoned caseworker. A 2003 study mapped the journey many children, families and caseworkers may travel to ensure children make it to safe, supportive environments. All told, this journey may include up to 13 "decision points" that involve child protective services, the police, the courts, birth parents, foster parents, a shelter or residential home, relatives and often many others (http://www.pewtrusts.org/uploaded-Files/wwwpewtrustsorg/Reports/Foster_care_reform/childsjourney%5Bl%5D. pdf). While it is recommended that front-line caseworkers who serve these children and families carry no more than 12-15 cases, the reality is that in many states they serve twice that number (http://www. …