human trafficking (Yupa Watchanakit/Shutterstock.com)

Cloud simplifies services delivery for human trafficking victims

A cloud-based case management system is speeding the federal government’s ability to process claims and services for victims of human trafficking.

The Shepherd Case Management System, which REI Systems modernized for the Office on Trafficking in Persons within the Health and Human Services Department’s Administration for Children and Families (ACF), now saves about 10 staff hours for each victim the system processes. In fiscal year 2019, that amounted to more than 800 hours of saved case processing time, OTIP Director Katherine Chon wrote in an email to GCN.

“OTIP case specialists can now manage cases and all subsequent processes through one system,” Chon said. “In the future, benefit-issuing agencies will also be able to access real-time verification status of HHS letters online, rather than calling our office.”

Also fiscal 2019, OTIP issued 1,203 Certification and Eligibility Letters, up 37% from the prior year, but by the end of fiscal 2020, OTIP reduced its pending case load by 75% from the previous fiscal year, according to an ACF press statement.

These improvements are because Shepherd replaced older, largely manual and siloed processes with a web portal for case submission and tracking, case management and workflow for OTIP staff. Deployed in  December 2019, Shepherd features audit tracking, secure cloud-based data sharing and reporting as well as role-based user access, allowing a range of agencies to access the same data.

Now, the public and human-trafficking victims and their representatives can submit requests for services through a web portal. OTIP case specialists can use Shepherd to expedite cases for people in emergencies, request consultations, refer someone to case management services through federally funded grantees and submit cases for review and approval by office leaders, Chon said.

“Previously, individuals who submitted requests to our office … had to do so through password-protected documents in an email,” Chon said. “OTIP case specialists had then tracked all cases manually in a database and managed consultations, case management referrals and other related correspondence through email.”

Besides allowing case requesters to electronically submit and track requests and case specialists to manage them in one system, Shepherd provides advanced cybersecurity to better protect victims’ privacy. Plus, its data sharing and analytics capabilities improve efficiency in program implementation and oversight, Chon added.

“We are providing survivors of trafficking and victim advocates a better experience seeking federal assistance,” she said.

When case specialists log in to the system, they see a dashboard with cases in order of date submitted. They can also view the history of actions taken on the case and select which action they want to take next. Options include adding comments or files; looking through cases by trend, means of labor and work location; certifying or revoking a case; and prepping a decision letter.

“When a case requester submits the request, automatically it’s available to the case specialist to review,” said Gauri Kayande, a senior program manager at REI Systems who managed the project. “It’s going to show up in their queue. They can go ahead and start triaging the information, decide if that’s a relevant case or not.”

Because ACF is moving into the Amazon Web Services cloud, REI Systems used several AWS products to support the system, including Elastic Compute Cloud machines to host the system, RDS for SQL Server to manage data, Simple Storage Service for file storage, CloudSearch for index-based searching and QuickSight for business intelligence.

Additionally, the team integrated HHS’ Access Management System so that users can log in using their HHS-issued personal identity verification cards.

The system is based on a microservices architecture that was divided into three main domains: request, review and case. The first is the public-facing web portal, while the other two are for agency staff. Additional supporting microservices include an authentication service that helps with logins and CloudSearch.

“The goal is that we divide our applications into smaller domains, which aligns with the business process,” said Yogesh Kumar, a technical architect at the company.

Overall, the yearlong effort had four goals, Kayande said: modernize and simplify case management, secure the data, improve efficiency and make data accessible.

“The different agencies that are involved with helping the victims are able to work together and share the information based on the correct privileges, roles, etc., but then we can also use this data to share with other agencies and say, ‘Hey, it looks like there’s a whole bunch of people coming from this particular farm in Mexico. We can consider doing something about it because a lot of labor trafficking victims are coming from there,’” Kayande said.

What’s more, the system can be easily adapted to other needs at HHS and beyond. For instance, Kayande said another potential use case is at ACF’s Office of Refugee Resettlement, which helps unaccompanied alien children with no legal guardian in the United States.

“They would obviously have to do a little customization because not everything that ACF requires for their victims of trafficking is going to be required,” she said, but “at the heart of it, it’s a case management system, and any place or any application where a case management system is required, it is very easy to scale.”

The Shepherd system’s name refers to ACF’s work to shepherd human-trafficking victims to a better life.

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.

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