They Do Everything by the eBook: Westchester County Turned Overlooked Documents into a Powerful Online Tool for Its Child Welfare Workers

By Rubin, Jon | Policy & Practice, October 2012 | Go to article overview

They Do Everything by the eBook: Westchester County Turned Overlooked Documents into a Powerful Online Tool for Its Child Welfare Workers


Rubin, Jon, Policy & Practice


"The web-based manual is by far one of the greatest resources made available to our child welfare staff. It adds a new dimension to how we train and acclimate workers to our agency. It is comprehensive, user-friendly, and promotes self-learning. I am always proud and eager to share it with new workers, as it demonstrates a real commitment by our department to provide workers with the tools necessary to be successful and promotes best casework practice in all program areas."

--TQ, Child

Welfare Manager

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Following a system assessment conducted by the Child Welfare League of America, the Westchester County, New York, Department of Social Services (DSS) recognized that one barrier to improved performance was the organization and presentation of their policies and procedures--which were at that time roughly compiled into large binders that were maintained in the district offices and not consistently accessible to staff. Westchester DSS then turned to the Westchester Institute for Human Development (WIHD), to help guide them through the development of a manual that could better serve the critical training needs of caseworkers, supervisors, and managers working in the foster care system.

In the ensuing years, Westchester County developed a unique online manual that serves the department's needs--a comprehensive, online document that is the go-to resource for county caseworkers, supervisors, and managers who can find what they need to practice in accordance with standards in one centralized location.

There are three major program areas in the manual: Child Protective Services, Preventive Services, and Foster Care & Adoption. Each of these program areas includes sections on Operational Framework, Policies, Practices and Procedures, and Standards of Practice. Each section includes resources (such as directories and desk aids) and forms that are specific to that program area. There is also an Overview chapter, which includes sections on general child welfare standards and practices, global policies for all program areas, and information on courts and on child welfare legislation.

The manual is accessible to DSS staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and any new policies or changes are immediately incorporated into the manual (usually within one day of reaching the Program and Policy office). Users can depend upon the fact that the information they use to guide their practice is always complete and up-to-date. In fact, DSS staff presenters typically cite three aspects of the manual when explaining why they find this online resource to be so helpful:

1. Confidence in knowing that the protocols they are following are up-to-date.

2. The customized Google functionality, which allows them to search for highly specialized topics and receive only the most relevant search results as designated by members of the manual team.

3. The "fillable" forms. There are more than 400 online, "fillable" forms currently in the Westchester County Manual, and each of these forms can be completed, saved, e-mailed, and printed without the user ever having to leave his/her desk.

These functions represent a true time-saver for child welfare staff that, until now, had to search high and low just to locate the appropriate form, then hope that it was, indeed, the correct and most updated version, complete it by hand, and then make multiple copies and manually send them to multiple recipients. …

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