Departments with the responsibility for children at risk in Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia are all moving towards a development or upgrade of case management systems due to significant child protection issues.
Problems with case and client management have exposed the need for more integrated and easily accessible systems to manage a number of issues that have been experienced across the three jurisdictions.
The Department of Education and Child Development (DECD) recently issued a Request for Tender (RFT) for the provision of an Electronic Case Management System in a bid to rectify departmental issues identified by the Debelle Report and the Allen Report, both handed down in 2013.
In June 2013, a Royal Commission Report was delivered by former Supreme Court Justice Bruce Debelle after it was found that parents were not told for two years about the sexual assault of a young girl at a South Australian school by an after-school care worker.
Debelle found the DECD was “unable to ensure a comprehensive and well-coordinated response to a serious and complex issue involving a range of stakeholders”.
This was followed by a report in September 2013 by former Executive Chief of DECD Peter Allen, who recommended the “establishment of a cross-department incident management Division, charged to review and revise existing policies and ensure complaints and appeals are responded to quickly and efficiently, with respect and transparency”.
Furthermore, the report suggested “the need for [a] shared information system to inform the progress of children and young people”.
In response to the recommendation, DECD established an Incident Management Division which includes the Investigations Unit, School Care, HR Support – Misconduct and Incapacity Unit, Parent Complaint Unit and Legislation and Legal Services Unit.
The RFT for the Case Management System marks another uptake of Allen’s recommendation. According to tender documents, the system is a way “to rationalise the Access Databases of the Investigations Unit, Misconduct, Discipline and Advice Unit and the Parents Complaint Unit”, which is part of the newly formed Incident Management Division.
Currently the Division uses several in-house business systems including an Incident and Response Management (IRS) system. The new Case Management system must integrate with those existing systems and will be required “to effectively case manage and coordinate responses to critical incidents of varying severity, parent complaints and assist with daily tasks, operational and administrative, undertaken by the business units”.
The solution must be able to be accessed by a specific application for mobile devices as a way of improving the DECD’s response time. It must also interface with an Electronic Documents Management System (EDRMS) and with third party systems. The tender closed in November 2013 with no indication of when DECD plans to begin the implementation of the system.
New South Wales
The Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) has faced similar problems to DECD in regards to case management. A Parliamentary Inquiry into Ministerial Propriety in October 2013 found that FACS was experiencing caseworker shortages and failing to manage its 40,000 cases of at-risk children.
In 2008, an inquiry by Justice James Wood into NSW child protection systems reported that FACS’s primary community services database, the Key Information and Directory System (KIDS), had poor data quality, complexities and problematic design features which made it hard for caseworkers to use. The inquiry found only 13 per cent of children reported as at-risk were visited by caseworkers.
It recommended that KIDS be redesigned, which the Department endeavoured to do before it scrapped the update in 2012 - after $12 million had been spent.
Minister for Family and Community Services Pru Goward told Fairfax in 2012 of the upgrade. “Testing this year has been disastrous with a multitude of programming errors and specification ambiguities…the costs of continuing the project outweighed what the Department advised were limited benefits to Community Services of successful implementation.”
However, a spokesperson told Intermedium in October 2013 that “planning is underway to deliver more advanced reporting tools so our staff can continue to provide a thorough service for our clients”.
This was said after Director-General at FACS Michael Coutts-Trotter told a Parliamentary Inquiry into Ministerial Propriety in NSW in October 2013 that FACS’s systems are “imperfect at best” and “in fairly significant need of upgrade and repair”.
The Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services (Communities) currently operates an Integrated Client Management System (ICMS), which was completed and entered a ‘business as usual’ phase in 2012-13, according to the Department’s 2012-13 Annual Report. The system manages information about clients and their placements with carers and care services.
In 2013, the Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry suggested a move away from the current Structured Decision Making (SDM) model that assists Departmental staff in identifying key decision-making points relating to the risk of harm to a child. The model was criticised for allowing workers to make decisions based on previous cases rather than assessing cases individually.
The inquiry noted that an overhaul of the SDM model would have further cost implications for ICMS as the model is already embedded within the system. The 2013-14 State Budget allocated $2.4 million to be expended on the system during 2013-14 and noted that “continuing investment in ICMS is to provide supportable and contemporary technology to improve service delivery”. According to Intermedium’s Budget IT, the project has received a total of $78 million in budget allocations since 2009-10.
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