California’s step-by-step solution for its new Child Welfare System

California’s step-by-step solution for its new Child Welfare System

California is dabbling with innovative ways of procuring technology for its new Child Welfare System, transitioning from waterfall procurement to an agile and iterative acquisition that aims to revamp the mammoth system’s services one at a time.


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The state boasts the largest child welfare program in the country, with nearly 20,000 end users, social workers and other staff relying on the underlying data, according to Will Lightbourne, director of the California Department of Social Services.

The legacy system was developed in the early 1990s and has remained largely static since. After years of failed attempts with traditional procurements, the Department of Social Services invited Code for America  to evaluate its draft request for proposal for a large procurement.  In a late-2015 blog post, Code for America staff asserted that the RFP posed risks of failure, lack of functionality, over-budget concerns and the possibility of the project taking longer than expected.

Shortly after, a team from Code for America began working with the state and a few other parties to develop a more effective and budget-friendly way of revamping the system.

The solution was to issue a set of smaller RFPs, rather than one for a “big bang solution” and, more important, focus on the various users’ needs. The first two RFPs have already been released, according to John Boule, director of California’s Office of System Integration: one for an application programming interface layer that would enable the new modules to communicate with the mainframe legacy database, and another to support the intake module and expose data for services like emergency calls and complaints. Bids have been submitted, and contract awards are expected in April and May 2016.

Once vendors are chosen, California will conduct alpha and beta user testing to ensure the product works the way it needs to. Ultimately, Boule said, this approach enables the team to test solutions, decide whether they help the user in workflow processes and then integrate the functionality into the system.  Old functionalities in the legacy application can then be retired as each new module is deployed.  

While testing hasn’t yet begun, the team is eventually looking to host its development environments in CalCloud, the private cloud service provided by the state's Department of Technology Services. As needed, the offices  will work with internal security experts and private sector professionals to address specific security needs, according to Boule.

When the traditional, all-in-one procurement approach was first explored, rough estimates looked at delivering the entire new system in one chunk to end users around fiscal year 2021, according to Lightbourne. Now, the team is looking at onboarding usable functionality starting in fiscal year 2016 and continuing through fiscal 2018. “We are looking to save significant time in getting upgrades to the user quicker, and that’s been the main thing,” Lightbourne said.

The new Child Welfare System is a joint effort led by the California Health and Human Services Agency’s Department of Social Services and Office of Systems Integration; the state’s Government Operations Agency and Department of Technology; and  the County Welfare Director’s Association of California.  At the federal level, the Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children, Youth and Families and the General Services Administration's 18F consulting shop also have been involved. 

About the Author

Amanda Ziadeh is a former reporter/producer for GCN.

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