When Texas authorities raided a polygamous religious sect's ranch last month, it spotlighted a complex tangle of issues, including finding foster care for 463 kids removed from the compound.
However, the processes involved in placing and tracking these children -- as well as the tens of thousands of kids nationally each year that are placed in foster care -- are also very complicated, and for the most part, are still typically handled through burdensome and error-prone paper-based procedures.
But in Texas, at least 20 private social services agencies -- including some that are offering to provide foster care to the children removed from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints' Yearning for Zion ranch -- are using Web-based software that can help facilitate better child care matches and keep case workers up to date on individual children's situations and needs.
The software, which is offered via software-as-a-services model from KaleidaCare Management Solutions, addresses some major problems that social services organizations face when handling child care cases, said Michael Radden, acting president of the Texas Alliance of Child and Family Services, an association of private child and family welfare agencies in Texas, and executive director of New Horizons, one of those private agencies.
"As a provider, it's hard to get critical information about a kid, such as information about education, medical information," said Radden. "The information doesn't always follow them, especially when these kids bounce around" from one foster-care situation to another, he said.
New Horizon's use of KaleidaCare software allows case workers -- as well as key individuals like therapists and others involved with a child's case -- to add information about a child's progress to help ensure that individual treatment plans are being followed, as well as more easily complete reports.
Electronic alerts can also be added to notify a case supervisor, for instance, if a child misses school, medical appointments, or other key visits or milestones.
Although details vary from state to state, in general, when child welfare officials from a state like Texas takes custody of an abused or neglected child, the state then turns to private foster care agencies that help place those children in homes, including group centers and private homes.
And although most states have computerized systems to help manage some of the processes involved in child custody situations, once kids are placed in foster care, information isn't easily shared between the foster care agency workers and state case workers. That's because a lot of the information needed to successfully track the child while in foster care -- including medical information such as vaccinations, behavioral progress reports and school attendance -- isn't easily accessible.
The agencies that use KaleidaCare can also provide state case workers with electronic access to the tracking information via web.
"The challenge in foster care is that homes are located in different towns, communities, and staff document the reports and information using pens and papers in three-ring binders, that have to be passed along or faxed," said Wayne Carson, CEO of All Church Home For Children, a private, nonprofit family-services organization that provides foster care services in Texas.
Carson's organization, like New Horizons', is one of the many private agencies that have offered to provide foster care to the children removed from the FLDS ranch. However, because of privacy and confidentiality rules, agencies such as Carson's, cannot disclose if they are actually providing foster care to specific children.
Still, Carson said the software, which is currently being implemented at All Church Home for Children, can help ensure that any children in foster care are getting care that better meets their needs. "It makes sure the entire treatment team is up to date on a child by making information easily accessible, so that everyone is working together for the child's best interest," he said.
In addition to the 20 Texas agencies, approximately 50 other social services agencies in 15 states are also using KaleidaCare Web-based applications, said company CEO Alistair Deakin. Currently, foster care for approximately 30,000 children in the United States including 12,000 in Texas, is being tracked via KaleidaCare software, he said.
"States take kids out of homes and then outsource the care to others," Deakin said. "This system provides transparency in how these kids are being cared for," he said.
Pricing for the software subscription starts from about $500 a month, he said.