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Compliance vs. Casework: Striking a Balance in Social Services

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Social services programs are necessary in providing children and families with the benefits and supports they need to thrive in their communities. These programs are primarily guided by regulatory requirements that dictate conditions that must be met to be considered compliant. Regulations tend to be policy and process driven, and reported back to governing entities who have authority or oversight for the services being delivered.

Casework is all about creating a plan to help a child or family obtain services and supports to overcome challenges they may be facing that inhibit their ability to successfully function in their community. As such, casework is driven by social workers who have made a personal commitment to a career of service to people in need. The objectives of case planning are focused on stabilizing families to change economic trajectory and to generally improve long-term outcomes.

While caseworkers are certainly aware of their regulatory obligations, they also value the unique needs of the children and families. When workers are focused primarily on compliance, without autonomy to serve, it can affect their job satisfaction and lead to turnover. In a recent report from the U.K. social worker turnover was up 16% in 2021 over the previous year. This turnover has a direct impact on operational effectiveness and the quality of services provided to vulnerable children and families.

The potential dichotomy between compliance and casework doesn’t have to be problematic. You can have both a compliant organization and a culture of commitment to quality casework. Two of the primary areas that are cited as reasons for social workers leaving their jobs are administrative burden and supervisory deficiencies. Solving these root cause issues can improve worker satisfaction and reduce turnover by allowing caseworkers more time to serve families.

Many social services legacy information systems are decades old and were not designed to support casework. These systems were architected in a monolithic design with stovepipe data stores, not conducive to working across programs or outside of the governmental agencies. This is further complicated when considering non-government organizations who work with families, and the growing demand for improved client experience.

Technology has drastically advanced to effectively support complex processes and interactions across a variety of stakeholders. When considering data origination points and the capabilities of technology, there are significant opportunities for improving compliance and the quality of casework. Modern systems of engagement are intuitively designed to reduce administrative load, which is often related to compliance rather than supporting practice.

Caseworkers will always focus on what they must do, before they focus on what they want to do because they have no choice. The key is to expand their capacity to provide better quality case planning and monitoring. Using modern systems of engagement, there are a variety of ways in which you can expand capacity through operational efficiencies, automation, and workload transfer. A few examples include:

  • Mobility Tools: Casework has always been mobile. Now workers can have tools that provide data when and where they need it. Automation of pre-populated forms, streamlined assessments, and access to case history can support engagement and contribute to productive visits.
  • Document Uploads: The ability for individuals, families, and community partners to upload collateral documents saves time and burden on the caseworker, while also empowering clients to be actively involved in their case plan.
  • Self-Service: The ability to see aspects of their case, manage appointments, and engage with other stakeholders provides an opportunity for the agency to build trust with individuals and families through transparency and action delegations.

Inherently, these examples support real-time compliance and improve casework quality. By automating processes and providing data insights, caseworkers are empowered to make key decisions in the field, while improving consistency and alignment to practice models. An added benefit of modern technology solutions is that they can be implemented quickly and seamlessly integrate with legacy solutions.

While compliance may not be a choice, there are varying ways in which it can be achieved without sacrificing quality casework. Through modern technology enablement, caseworkers can focus on what they do best – serving people.