- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 3, 2015

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Frustrated state caseworkers told lawmakers Tuesday that a 10-month-old computer system is riddled with problems that are hampering their efforts to protect vulnerable children.

Five Department of Human Services employees from across Michigan reported issues finding case histories, inputting investigative summaries and having to redo work because of deleted information.

The new Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System, or SACWIS, was launched in late April and is required by the federal government. It also is mandated under an agreement in which the department is under the eye of a court-appointed monitor to settle a sweeping 2006 lawsuit over a range of child welfare issues.

Nikki Cole, an Ottawa County children’s protective services investigator, estimated that in a case where she finds no abuse or neglect, it takes her 10 hours to enter data into the case management system instead of five hours like before. When a child is placed into foster case, she said, it can take three or four days of computer work rather than a half day.

Bill VanDriessche, an Iosco County caseworker, said he received a referral for an alleged neglect case on Monday but could not find out information about the allegations because they were oddly deemed “confidential” in the system. After submitting a “help ticket,” it can take two to three days before a glitch is fixed, he said.

“If we’re supposed to be out there ensuring the safety of Michigan’s children, two to three days could be a matter of life or death for the child,” VanDriessche said.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration, however, characterized the problems as typical of those encountered during any major software change and said the help desk has improved.

Average wait times are down to 30 seconds from 15 minutes. Seventy percent of requests are being resolved with the first call, up from 30 percent, said DHS deputy director Steve Yager, who heads the Children’s Services Administration.

“As you can imagine, there’s an enormous learning curve,” he said of the system that has 6,800 users and for the first time is accessible to both public and private agencies. Some workers have caught on quickly while others have been slow to learn, Yager said.

He said the agency had already been aware of caseworkers’ concerns and has or will make fixes, noting the rollout has involved the conversion of millions of records of historical data from five different systems into one.

“We need to continue to listen to them day to day. We need to continue to improve the system so it works well for them and more importantly so it works well for kids,” Yager said.

Members of the House budget subcommittee for human services seemed sympathetic to what workers are confronting but also urged their patience.

“This new program isn’t going anywhere,” said Rep. Mike McCready, a Bloomfield Hills Republican.

The system consolidates databases for the state and private agencies it works with, and aims to allow real-time sharing of case data - a crucial capability that was not possible previously.

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Follow David Eggert at http://twitter.com/DavidEggert00 .

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