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iPads will soon change how social workers do their job in Butler County

Butler County Children Services will be one of five agencies in the state to pilot a new mobile technology system that officials say will increase efficiency and allow social workers more time to interact with families.

Having mobile access to the agency’s case files and documents will mean time savings to the social workers working with families who are in jeopardy of losing custody of their children, according to JFS Executive Director Bill Morrison.

Social workers now carry boxes of forms and records in the trunk of their vehicles while they are out visiting families and children throughout the county, he said. With the new technology, that paper trail will become obsolete.

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“I believe it could represent a 10 percent efficiency boost because we spend a lot of time filling out these forms,” Morrison said. “When workers are filling out forms that’s time that’s not available for them to be interacting with families in the field. It’s not exactly a good communication strategy to be writing forms when you’re talking to people.”

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The pilot program will put iPads in social workers’ hands with the capability to access the agency’s database, populate forms and get client signatures on the spot — eliminating the need to make copies and later scan documents. Social workers will also be able to take photos and videos of the homes they are visiting.

A similar program was considered several years ago, but it was cost prohibitive, according to Morrison.

“I think it really is going to be a game changer,” Morrison said. “I had (the vendor) come down and do a presentation three or four years ago but it would have cost us $1.3 million a year to have this. So it’s much better that the state and federal government are giving it to us.”

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Forty of Ohio’s 88 counties applied to be part of the pilot program, according to Julie Gilbert, the newly named Butler County Children Services Director, but only one county per region — there are five regions in the state — was chosen.

Butler County has already started working with the vendor to build the new system, which should be live by the end of September.

Being chosen for the pilot program will allow Butler County to have input on the new statewide program, said Butler County Administrator Charlie Young.

“It gives us a chance to have a lot more input than we might otherwise have in how this system functions, in order to make sure it’s meeting our needs, in a way we think it can and should,” he said.

Gilbert said she hasn’t been told yet what the county’s cost might be — the lion’s share is being funded with federal and state dollars — but it should be minimal. The agency has 40 iPads right now — the hardware isn’t part of the state’s deal — and they would need upwards of 80 to outfit the entire staff that works in the field.

“Ohio is fortunate to have several forward-thinking counties, including Butler County, that embrace approaches to using data to improve outcomes for children and families served by the child welfare system,” said Bret Crow, communications director for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

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