Child welfare provincial information system approaches the halfway mark

Aleem Punja, Sector Lead for CPIN, discusses the challenges of deployment and why the child welfare sector continues to move forward

In the next couple of months, almost half of Ontario’s Children’s Aid Societies will have joined CPIN, the provincial information system that was a key recommendation at several inquests. Is this a turning point to celebrate?

I think this absolutely is something to celebrate. The child welfare sector has now achieved a very large footprint on one common information system. Reaching this point is key to our commitment to reconfigure the child welfare system so it better serves children and families across the province. But the journey so far has involved considerable turbulence. Children’s Aid Societies that have deployed CPIN are experiencing significant challenges that need immediate resolution. CPIN in its current state is not meeting the needs of Children’s Aid Societies.

What are the challenges that most concern you right now?

There are some serious technical issues that urgently need to be fixed, such as the difficulties most agencies are experiencing getting data out of the system in the form of a report. For example, they are not able to pull a report that tells them where their kids in care are living. For obvious reasons, this is a technical issue that the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Servicess (MCCSS) needs to address as soon as possible. Until it is addressed, Children’s Aid Societies are having to access this information with manual file crawls.

Another serious technical issue is the astronomical number of duplicate records for children and families that are coming into the system through the data migration process. There is supposed to be just one record per child and family, so this adds huge complexity and risk to the job of a frontline worker who needs to quickly find information to make decisions.

The CPIN search function is also far too complex and cumbersome to use and could lead to risk. Search is one of the most critical functions a worker performs when a protection referral comes in, so it is vital that this function be improved. Our worst fear is not being able to access the information required to ensure a child is safe.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) is currently running a campaign about CPIN called “Fund it and Fix it.” Is lack of funding for CPIN part of the reason the road to deployment has been so bumpy?

We’ve realized thanks to the wisdom of having 15 agencies on CPIN that Children’s Aid Societies cannot implement and sustain CPIN within their current operating budgets. Many societies will be in deficit situations as a direct result of implementing CPIN. MCCSS, as our funder and owner of CPIN, needs to address this shortage of funding as we don’t want Children’s Aid Society budgets to take away from children and families to sustain an IT system.

The OPSEU campaign also talks about the very negative impact that CPIN is having on front line workers. Can you speak to this?

Workers keep telling me that working in CPIN is the biggest change they’ve experienced in their careers. Many of our workers are tech savvy and they are telling us that in terms of change management adapting to CPIN has required a whole new level of resilience from them. Working on a common system has also increased a frontline worker’s workload exponentially. For example, frontline workers used to rely on finance departments to do the paperwork to purchase items for their kids. Now workers need to input that information directly into the system themselves. We must acknowledge the experience at the frontline and figure out a way to support workers in their day to day jobs because ultimately they are the ones supporting our most vulnerable kids and families.

Has there been any thought to halting the deployment of CPIN until the various challenges are worked out?

Back in December the sector submitted a report outlining its concerns and met with the Ministry of Child and Youth Services, which is responsible for CPIN, including the Minister, Deputy Minister, and staff. More recently, the Minister and Deputy Minister visited the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto and two frontline workers took them through what a day looks like working in CPIN. It was a great opportunity for the Minister, who was very engaged and asked insightful questions. Since then the Minister and Ministry have renewed their commitment to strong collaboration with the sector and agreed to move towards a mutual partnership. We believe that a relationship based on a partnership will make a huge difference to the integrity of CPIN.

The intent of a provincial information system is to help make children in Ontario safer. Are we any closer to this goal?

I’m going to answer this by giving you an example. In the past week we had a number of frontline workers who needed to get access to information about a family based on a call they had received with a protection concern. As a result of having 15 agencies on CPIN these workers were able to do a digital search and see the history of the family at multiple agencies in minutes, giving them the full picture they needed to make an informed judgement call. In the past, they would have had to phone the other agencies and ask for that information, a slower, more cumbersome process. So there’s obvious light at the end of the tunnel. We all want this to work. At the end of the day it’s all about vulnerable kids and families. As we plow through this complex journey we need to keep them at the front of our minds.

Fast Facts on CPIN

CPIN –  The new Child Protection Information Network that will allow Children’s Aid Societies to share confidential child protection information between agencies in a secure way. CPIN will also be used to manage case files and finances. CPIN is a five-year project led and funded by the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Servicess who are responsible for the technical development and management of the IT infrastructure of this product.

15 – The number of Children’s Aid Societies now using CPIN

9,316 – The number of CAS staff using CPIN every day, representing 30% of provincial staff

30% – The percentage of child welfare cases now in CPIN

160,788 – the number of new cases logged into CPIN since June 2016

2020 – The projected year by which CPIN will have been deployed to all CASs