N. Carolina tracks welfare cases on the Web

N. Carolina tracks welfare cases on the Web

BY DONNA YOUNG | GCN STAFF

New Web technology is helping social workers in North Carolina tap the management potential of the information they gather.

Suzanne Marshall, North Carolina's Health and Human Services assistant chief for program evaluation and automation, said most social workers are at the mercy of outdated legacy systems that are difficult to use for information retrieval.

'Caseworkers put their information in the system, but all they can get out of it are canned reports,' Marshall said. 'The problem is that the system is set up so information goes into it in a priority order and then it is not always easy to get to a particular piece of data that you need later.'

Putting data to use

But now, the state's Management Assistance for the Work First Program Web site, at ssw.unc.edu/workfirst, gives caseworkers the ability to quickly find longitudinal information about individuals in the state's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. County caseworkers can use information from the site to develop reports or compare county-by-county and statewide statistics.

'Caseworkers can use the data on the site to look for growth trends and seasonal fluctuations in benefits administered,' she said. 'And they can see what is going on in other counties. Sometimes that motivates them to see where everyone else's numbers stand.'

The University of North Carolina's Jordan Institute for Families School of Social Work created the Web site under a contract with the state.

The University used SAS/INtrnet software from SAS Institute Inc. of Cary, N.C., to develop the site.

The site resides on the university's main campus Web server, a 400-MHz 36-way Sun Microsystems ES10000 with 20G of RAM and Solaris.

Dean Duncan, UNC clinical assistant professor and the Web site project leader, said the university collects monthly extracts of data from the state as well as earnings data from the Employment Security Commission to track Work First clients.

The university maintains the site and provides statistical data and analysis on a year-by-year contract with the state. The current year's contract is for slightly more than $700,000.

The longitudinal information compiled for the Web site also helps the state meet federal reporting requirements.

In addition, Marshall said, the Web site saves social workers and state officials a lot of time when it comes to disseminating information to the public and the media.

'We get calls from college and high school students who need information for reports, and we didn't used to have the time to help them out much because it was too difficult to retrieve the data they needed,' she said. 'Now I can just direct them to the Web site. It saves us a lot of time on the phone.'

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