A Law and Technology Challenge for Human Services

By Pollack, Daniel | Policy & Practice, December 2006 | Go to article overview

A Law and Technology Challenge for Human Services


Pollack, Daniel, Policy & Practice


The information revolution continues to unfold and the human service world is being changed by it every day. This heralds the alteration of previous relationships between agencies and clients and among agencies themselves. Perhaps the single most important result of this process is the emergence of a more transparent human service world. Aggregated personal information about clients is becoming more public, while simultaneously we attach great significance to information privacy, especially from government institutions.

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During the past decade, vast sums of federal and state public funds have been spent to automate the human service infrastructure. Many of these information technology solutions are designed and implemented by companies that have varying degrees of understanding of best practices. Many of these systems use propriety technology to create automated case management workflows with hundreds of screens, dozens of reports and custom programming.

The federal government has spent billions of dollars underwriting the planning, development and operation of state-based information technology systems that support the child support enforcement, child welfare, Medicaid, and food stamp programs. We spend these considerable resources and time trying to serve each client on an individual basis. Ironically, the more detailed these personalized databases are, the more concerned we are about privacy infringement. There is an essential need for easy, effective workflow automation in the human service field that takes into account efficiency and privacy. An information technology solution must address four crucial requirements: (1) accurate information gathering; (2) timely dissemination; (3) quality control, and (4) that they pass legal muster.

Accurate information gathering and timely dissemination involve accumulating and processing data in order to arrive at discrete outcomes. For example, in the adoption context, a typical intake requires a field social worker to interview individuals and record observations and recommendations in order to create a document that forms the basis of a report, which is then filed in court. This workflow involves, at minimum, accurate recording, supervisory approval, document collaboration, record review and information exchanges between social service agencies, legal counsel and the court.

Quality control includes supervisory and external monitoring of not only the process of information gathering and dissemination, but also the implementation and utilization of best practices in the workflow solution. …

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