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Sustaining Linkages in San Luis Obispo County.

San Luis Obispo County is a semi-rural county located along (he central coast of California, midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. As of the 2010 U.S. Census, San Luis Obispo County has 269,637 residents. The current unemployment rate is 9.4 percent. The poverty rate was 13.2 percent in 2009. The San Luis Obispo County Department of Social Services (DSS) administers Child Welfare Services (CWS), participant services (consisting of CalWORKs/ Welfare-to-Work or foster care or general assistance, CalFresh, and Medical), and adult services programs and serves approximately 12.8 percent of the county's residents.

The county DSS identifies Linkages as a partnership between CWS and participant services. This partnership provides families with a collaborative approach to case management and services. Staff engages families in a coordinated and supportive manner to establish a cooperative foundation for future relationships and to assess family concerns, strengths and resources.

The DSS implemented Linkages in 2005, and instituted many changes to support a single point of entry for families. Regional managers became responsible for managing staff across all programs and staff was colocated in each regional office. Social workers were assigned to a unit with a single program assignment. Assignments consist of Intake, Emergency Response, Dependency Investigation, Family Maintenance/Family Reunification, Licensing, Placement or Adoptions. Participant services--employment resource specialists--became integrated caseload managers. Their caseload consists of a primary cash-based program (CalWORKs/Welfare to Work or foster care or general assistance) CalFresh, and medical services. In addition, an employment resource specialist IV position was created to specialize in employment services, serve as a community liaison, facilitate family team meetings, and mentor the employment resource specialists. In order to coordinate case plans with the family and collaborate to provide services, a confidentiality policy was introduced, authorizing DSS staff to internally share relevant information. A Linkages database was developed to identify families involved with both CWS and participant services. Staff would then make entries to document coordinated case plans and track collaboration efforts and families' progress.

In 2009, an evaluation of the Linkages database showed that it was not being utilized because staff had to manually enter the majority of data. Because of the database's complexity, staff was not using it as a resource to identify families involved with both CWS and participant services. The Linkages database was then redesigned to minimize repetitive data entry, improve accuracy in identifying families with cases in common, and to increase staff tracking of a family's progress. In addition, a Co-Case Management Tool (CCMT) was developed for participant services staff to manage their CalWORKs families Wei fare-to-Work, Time-on-Aid, and Linkages activities.

The CCMT provides a centralized and efficient CalWORKs caseload management system to support participant services staff collaboration, supervision and management reports. The CCMT automatically populates CalWORKs participant data, as well as the majority of Welfare-to-Work activities and Time on Aid data. The data is updated from CalWIN on a daily basis. The CCMT enhances internal reporting capabilities to identify targeted linkages populations, such as Welfare-to-Work Sanctioned families and families eligible for CalWORKs Family Reunification Services.



The Linkages data collection system was integrated into the CCMT. The Linkages section enables employment resource specialist IVs to document collaborative efforts in serving a family and the date a coordinated case plan was signed. This date is then used to track the results of the family's future self-sufficiency and child well-being. The Linkages entries made in the CCMT are automatically sent to the Linkages database. The accessibility and usage of the CCMT has increased the documentation of coordinated efforts in the Linkages database.

The technology supporting Linkages consists of several computer systems and applications. The primary applications include the CWS/case management system, CalWIN (the participant services case management system), SMART (Service Management Access and Resource Tracking), and DSSNet (the Department of Social Services internal network). The automatic interfaces are scheduled computer processes that require no human intervention. The manual interface requires staff to manually perform the data extract using Business Objects and an in-house written application. This manual step takes the internal reporting team approximately 20 minutes per day.

The CalWIN Information Server (CIS) and SMART are updated daily through two automatic CalWIN interfaces. The CIS is a database extract of CalWIN data that DSS can access; it is used primarily for reporting. SMART is the common participant index used to read the CalWIN and CWS/CMS interface files nightly and to update participant biographic, demographic and case information.


SMART accomplishes the difficult task of matching participants from disparate systems using an algorithm that matches participants first on social security number, then on date of birth and name. New participants are added to the database; participants SMART does not definitively match but suspects to be a potential match are added to the mismatch table. On average, there are 10 to 20 mismatches that need to be manually resolved each day. Most mismatches from CWS/CMS occur because of a missing birth date or social security number. The mismatches are processed by the internal reporting team and take about 15 to 30 minutes per day. The effort to resolve the mismatch depends entirely on the problem. If the problem is an inaccurate social security number then the Medi-Cal Eligibility Data System is researched and the data are corrected in either CalWIN or CWS/CMS. If additional research is needed, the employment resource specialist or social worker is contacted to resolve the issue.

While CalWIN assigns a case number to all members of a case for easy identification, CWS/CMS does not. In order to identify referral/case members, the birth mother's SMART Client ID is used as the common identifier. This number is then entered into CWS/CMS for each case member in the State ID field.

The CCMT is used primarily to manage CalWORKs Welfare-to-Work activities. Participants can be searched by caseload, case name, CWS State ID, CalWIN Case Number or social security number. The CCMT updates employment resource specialist logs daily, adding new cases and updating participants' contact information, welfare-to-work status, assigned activities and participation hours. The CCMT serves as a universal tool for employment resource specialists, employment resource specialist IVs, employment services supervisors and management to manage and track CalWORKs participant activities. Manual data entries are limited to employment resource specialist IVs who work with and mentor a group of employment resource specialists. Approximately 95 percent of the Welfare-to-Work information populates from manual entries made in CalWIN. The CCMT has improved data entries made into CalWIN, as errors or gaps in the CCMT need to be resolved in CalWIN. The CCMT is populated with a check mark to show the family has an active referral or case with CWS. Key Linkages entries are manually entered in the CCMT and are automatically imported into the Linkages database.

The Linkages database identifies participants associated with both an active CalWIN case and an active CWS referral or case. It tracks whether or not participant services and CWS staff met to discuss the case and if a coordinated case plan was completed. Participant services and CWS staff use this database. SMART is the primary data source for the Linkages database. The Linkages database has added an internal application to support Linkages--the Linkages referral notice.

CWS intake social workers use the Linkage referral notice when they receive a report of suspected child abuse. The worker looks up the family utilizing the common case look-up screen. Clients can be searched by name, CWS State ID, CalWIN Case Number or social security number. The application shows if the family has a current participant services case and if so, a click of a button sends an e-mail notifying the employment resource specialist, emergency response social worker, and their supervisors of an opportunity to collaborate. A report of the e-mail notices sent is used to research Linkages documentation in CWS/CMS and CalWIN, and to track collaboration efforts. As of March 2011, 54 Linkages referral notices have been sent and Linkages case documentation has been identified on 38 of the 54 referrals. SMART is the primary data source for this application.

To design the CCMT, Linkages database, and Linkage referral notice applications, a workgroup was created with participant services employment resource specialists/supervisors, CWS social workers/supervisors, information technology software engineers, staff development program managers and regional managers. Members of the workgroup provided input on the Linkage process and helped define how the applications would assist case management. Now that the applications are in use, staff is encouraged to provide input for improving and changing business practices through staff meetings or by directly contacting the program manager. Staff involvement has resulted in technology that is user friendly, timely and reliable.

Re-evaluating Linkages in San Luis Obispo County has resulted in an extensive overhaul of internal information systems. This technology has filled a gap in data collection in several areas and introduced a strong information system network to support procedures. Results are seen in other areas of practice. In May 2011,15 of 20 (75 percent) CWS team decision-making meetings included families involved with participant services. Participant services staff attended all 15 of these meetings. The technology supporting the CCMT and Linkages database has allowed San Luis Obispo County to move forward in sustaining Linkages as a normal way of doing business.

Julie lemen is an information technology senior software engineer and Belinda Benassi is a child welfare services/participant services Linkages coordinator engineer at the Department of Social Services in San Luis Obispo County, California.
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Title Annotation:Locally speaking
Author:Lemen, Julie; Benassi, Belinda
Publication:Policy & Practice
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2011
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