In 2008, the Government of British Columbia began the process of developing a new child welfare information system. Called Integrated Case Management (ICM), the system was to be user-friendly, provide for improved information flow and use of evidence for decision making.
The April 2008 Capital Project Plan for ICM states that the new system will “enable ministry staff to spend more time working directly with clients and less time on data entry, locating paper files and other administrative tasks.”
Implementation of ICM began at MCFD this past April for child protection staff.
From the beginning of this project, I expressed concerns with the direction it was taking, and sought assurances that the system was being designed for child protection purposes, with a clear set of business requirements for practice and with clear collaboration with front line staff — the end user of the system called upon to collect and keep secure information pertaining to child safety.
I brought these concerns forward to ministers and deputy ministers over the past number of years, and with particular focus in the past year as it became clear that the preparation for ICM revealed some major gaps.
I have reached the point where I am making this rare public statement as I strongly believe that ICM is not adequate to provide safety to vulnerable children, youth and families in B.C.
My Office has been inundated with calls and emails from child welfare workers and others using ICM who take their responsibility regarding child safety very seriously. Far from “…enabling ministry staff to spend more time working directly with clients and less time on data entry… and other administrative tasks”… the system has an overwhelming number of technical issues that have burdened workers already facing work pressures.
We have met with front line Ministry of Children and Family Development staff, and we have sought advice from experts in the development of human services information systems.
Those responsible for using the system are not certain they can keep children safe because they are not able to store information quickly on ICM, or find crucial information in a timely fashion. I cannot be confident that information about a child or family that has been entered in the system since April is actually properly captured. I am very concerned that records are
incomplete and decisions are being made on child protection cases without access to all the required information.
Specific cases have arisen and my Office is overwhelmed by the breadth of the problem. I must express to the public my conclusion that without dramatic and rapid improvements and modifications, I am not confident that child safety can be assured through the use of ICM.
The volume of technical problems that front line workers have identified increases risks to safety of children. It is not a matter of one problem getting in the way of a task, but multiple problems at the same time. Given that the application as introduced is deeply flawed for child protection work, the fix is clearly not simply a matter of more training. A system that cannot generate a paper report, for example for court purposes, or which limits the ability of staff to connect adults to children, track and understand the “story” of what is happening in their lives, is not adequate.
Further compounding the issue is that planning for ICM did not include a contingency plan if the system did not work. Any large system implementation should have a roll-back plan; it is standard information systems development practice. And it is even more important when that system is relied on to inform safety decisions involving vulnerable children.
While I appreciate that the current minister and deputy minister at MCFD inherited a poorly planned process, this does not excuse me from my public duty as an overseer of the child welfare system to provide a public warning to government that the system does not work.
I now expect the government to quickly, effectively and efficiently address the problems, and to report publicly on how this will be done and on progress made. Immediate steps are necessary to prevent harm and stabilize the front line staff who are overwhelmed by this ill-planned process.
My staff and I will continue to listen to front line staff, to closely monitor the ICM project, and to assess the effectiveness of changes proposed and implemented.
I have advised both my colleagues in the Office of the Auditor General and the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of my concerns as issues have arisen that overlap their duties and responsibilities. My capacity and the ability of my Office to manage the number of problems and difficulties ICM has brought to the practice of child welfare may not be sustainable.
For the sake of vulnerable children and youth in B.C., and for those working to keep them safe, there must be quick action and quick results, with a high degree of transparency to the public.