OACAS’ Aleem Punja discusses the highs and lows of the journey to a new provincial information system for the child welfare sector.
2016 is a big year for the Child Protection Information Network (CPIN) with five new agencies coming on board beginning this spring. What has it taken to get to this point?
It is hard to convey how massive a project it is for an agency — and the sector — to move to CPIN. CPIN is not just an IT project, it’s an everything project. It’s all hands on deck for both the sector and the Ministry, which is leading the initiative. CPIN requires every department in an agency to move to new business processes that are consistent across the province. CPIN is transforming child welfare in Ontario.
Information is a big part of any business these days, but especially in child protection work. How is CPIN different from previous ways of handling information in child welfare?
CPIN is a highly sophisticated and customized IT system that modernizes child welfare by introducing a consistent approach to collecting information across the province. It also tracks information at Children’s Aid Societies on a wider scale than ever before. Every employee at a CAS puts their information into CPIN. That includes information collected at intake as well as information about children in care, legal proceedings, foster care and group home care, and adoption. In addition, case file and financial information are now completely integrated so that, at a glance, an agency can determine how much is spent on a given child or family. What is really revolutionary about CPIN is that it gives caseworkers across the province seamless access to the information they need to do their jobs well. CPIN challenges traditional notions of information sharing while still following good privacy practices.
The jury in the Jeffrey Baldwin inquest recommended the creation of a province-wide information system to prevent situations where multiple files for one family sit at different agencies. How could CPIN prevent a similar tragedy like Jeffrey’s death from happening?
The intention of CPIN is to provide the ability to see one provincial record for a family that any worker at any agency can see without any barriers. So CPIN adds extra layers of due diligence. But IT systems are only as good as human entry and business processes. If not handled properly, CPIN will not be able to live up to its full capacity.
What are some of the specific challenges that the deployment of CPIN has involved?
This is the first time in Ontario’s history that child welfare is using a common system, so inevitably there will be bugs to work out. We call the first five agencies that started using CPIN the “five alive,” and the next batch the “coming alive”. In the upcoming launch, we’re even having to merge data from two different legacy systems at Simcoe Muskoka Family Connexions, a recently amalgamated agency. Deploying CPIN is like installing a new operating system on your computer: there’s only so much the first release can do. That’s why there are quarterly releases of CPIN and mini-releases in between. The more we use it, the better we understand our needs and the better CPIN will be.
What is frustrating to many frontline workers right now is how technical problems are resolved. Before CPIN, a worker would simply file a ticket with their IT person, who could resolve the problem locally. With CPIN, the worker calls the IT person, the IT person files the ticket with the Ontario Public Service IT desk, and then the ticket goes into a queue until it’s analyzed and prioritized. We’re working closely with the Ministry to improve response and resolution times.
You’re the liaison between the Ministry and the child welfare sector, which means you have a front-row seat to the biggest change initiative in child welfare. What’s your number one concern?
I actually have two. The first is ensuring that business processes are harmonized across the province. We want information to be entered into CPIN in the same way by every worker, regardless of which agency they’re with. We are currently working with the Ministry and agencies to keep improving this.
The second one is ensuring that we have the resources available to deploy and sustain CPIN properly at both the Ministry and local agency level. CPIN is a $130 million project. To deploy CPIN, the Ministry provides $220,000 to each agency, as well as some project management and training supports. The Ministry also covers the cost of bringing over case information from the previous system. At the same time the Ministry’s Regulation 70 prohibits Children’s Aid Societies from running deficits. This is a project that involves significant new infrastructure, IT upgrades, training, and backfilling of staff. The supports the Ministry provides are good for sure, but it’s just not enough.
By 2020 all CASs will be using CPIN. Why is the system being rolled out gradually rather than all at once?
The Ministry of Children, Community and Social Servicess commissioned the auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers to determine how quickly to phase out the legacy child protection information systems at each CAS and replace them with CPIN. Their analysis showed that taking a “Big Bang” approach posed too big a risk for the child welfare sector and therefore increased risk to child safety, which we wanted to avoid. A phased-in approach has far less risk and therefore much greater potential for success. It’s going to take 5 years for CASs to get used to using CPIN and produce reports for meaningful analysis.
Will you be relieved when this is all over?
You might find this hard to believe, but I really love my job.
Fast Facts About CPIN
$130 million — the cost of implementing CPIN
25 million — the number of records that will have been transferred to CPIN as of June 2016
2692— the number of CAS staff that will be using CPIN as of June 2016, representing 30% of provincial staff
2020 — the year by which CPIN will have been deployed to all CASs
10 — the number of CASs that will be using CPIN as of June 2016
6 — the number of CASs currently using CPIN