In 2017, child abuse investigators in New York City investigated 60,000 reports of child abuse and neglect. Now, as they go on tens of thousands of visits to homes, schools, doctors’ offices, shelters and other locations to investigate allegations and interview witnesses, they will have a powerful technology tool to help them.
The city announced in late October that all of its more than 2,000 frontline child protective staff in its Administration for Children’s Services have been provided with Microsoft Surface Pro tablets.
New York said the tablets will give investigators greater access to critical documents and case histories while they are out in the field. The tablets are also equipped with new software that will, among other things, “automatically identify and flag high-risk cases that need additional review by managerial staff,” the city says.
The tablets and software are elements of a much broader effort to use technology to strengthen ACS’ work that ACS Commissioner David Hansell has put in place over the last year and a half.
“Our frontline child protective workers are first responders for New York City’s children, and we have to make sure they have every tool available to do their lifesaving work,” Hansell said in a statement. “Whether it’s making the difficult decision to remove a child from a dangerous home or referring a family to substance abuse treatment, these technological upgrades will mean they will have the tools they need to serve children and families right at their fingertips.”
How Surface Pro Tablets and Software Will Aid Investigators
As part of the child protective specialists’ work, they must take case notes, track active cases and access a family’s prior child welfare history, the city notes. However, until now, they have had to keep paper records or get to an office to search databases or pull up records, which costs them critical time in sensitive investigations.
The Surface Pro devices, which are equipped with high-speed internet connections, will allow investigators to “access the state’s child-welfare database in the field, so that they can immediately see a family’s past history with ACS and other relevant data,” the city says.
Each tablet also features Microsoft OneNote, which provides speech-to-text technology as well as the opportunity for caseworkers to handwrite notes using a stylus. These tools will allow investigators to type their case notes while out in the field and complete reports more quickly.
Additionally, ACS launched a new Safe Measures Dashboard, which gives caseworkers, supervisors and other staff a streamlined overview of case details. Safe Measures provides workers with a calendar of tasks and deadlines in cases, tracks interviews that were conducted or are still outstanding and prioritizes workloads. Safe Measures also allows supervisors to view caseworkers’ workloads and progress, the city says. A total of 2,628 ACS workers have been trained to use the SafeMeasures dashboard on the Surface Pro.
“Carrying tablets with these apps and software helps us prioritize our work and complete investigations faster and more efficiently,” Eric Blackwood, a child protective specialist in Brooklyn who was part of the initial pilot phase before tablets were given to all caseworkers, said in a statement.
“We can get much more information about families while we’re in the field, we can organize our interview schedules and we can record critical notes in real time,” he added. “This technology makes us better prepared for the increase in investigations we’re seeing during back-to-school season.”
According to the city’s statement, ACS previously expanded the use of smartphones for frontline caseworkers, developed a new case assignment system to manage workloads more effectively and provided CPS with Zipcar Local Motion Technology, which lets frontline workers immediately find and reserve Zipcars online so that they can more quickly respond to possible child abuse and neglect cases.