The province must suspend the rollout of the Child Protection Information Network until problems are fixed
The computer system that is meant to help Ontario’s children’s aid societies protect children and families is actually put them at risk.
The first children’s aid societies began using the Child Protection Information Network, or CPIN, in 2014 following recommendations from a coroner’s inquest into the death of Jeffrey Baldwin. The province then sped up the rollout of the system in 2016 after the release of the recommendations of the inquest into the death of Katelynn Sampson.
Members of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) who work at children’s aid societies (CASs) support a common information system for child welfare. But the move to centralize information sharing has been hampered by a deeply flawed software system.
At agencies now using CPIN, many administrative tasks take three to five times longer than they used to. Case information takes longer to input; as a result, staff are often unable to meet the 24-hour standard for updating case notes as required by the Ministry of Children and Youth Services (MCYS). Information on families is difficult to search on CPIN.
Workload for CAS staff at agencies using CPIN has gone through the roof.
“Working on a common system has also increased a frontline worker’s workload exponentially,” according to Aleem Punja, sector lead for CPIN for the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS). “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,” he said earlier this year.
Some agencies have reported spending over $1 million on CPIN. All of these costs are unbudgeted. All of these costs are coming out of CAS base budgets. All of these costs threaten direct service hours for children and families.
The divisional executive of the OPSEU Children’s Aid Sector has been meeting with MCYS about ongoing issues with CPIN since the rollout began. We are calling on MCYS to halt the rollout of CPIN until it is fully ready for use, and to fully fund all agency costs for implementing the system, including training costs. Problems with CPIN must be fixed before other agencies are brought online.
Despite widespread recognition that CPIN is not fully functional and has dramatically increased workloads, we have not seen a serious commitment at provincial working tables to address the administrative burden CPIN has created.
Our voice at the provincial table: CPIN working groups
OPSEU has seven units that have implemented CPIN, out of 20 units across the province:
- L. 148 Chatham-Kent Children's Services
- L. 168 Sarnia-Lambton CAS
- L. 258 Family & Children's Services of the Waterloo Region
- L. 344 Kawartha-Haliburton Children's Aid Society
- L. 454 Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa
- L. 459 Family and Children’s Services for Renfrew County
- L. 458 Children’s Aid Society United Counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry
OPSEU participates on the CPIN Priority Review Board and on the Finance CPIN functional working group.
There are nine functionality groups that look at change requests (tickets) which are scored on a matrix. If the change requests meet the threshold, they are sent to the Priority Review Board to be discussed and scored again. Change requests can take up to 365 days for solutions to be provided.
In February 2016, MCYS hosted a “Lessons Learned” discussion with the OACAS, ministry representatives, CPIN consultants, employers, and union representatives to discuss ongoing problems with CPIN implementation. A document was produced that identified key concerns with in a number of areas: training, deployment, ticketing, CPIN functionality, change management, sustainability, and ongoing support. In September 2017, OPSEU and CUPE made a joint presentation to employers to outline key concerns around workload and the inconsistent application of CPIN across agencies. The latter undermines the very intent of the system, namely, to provide a consistent platform for information sharing and centralizing documentation.
OPSEU recommends stopping the CPIN rollout until the following recommendations are implemented:
Practices and Forms
- Establish consistent practices, forms, procedures and work-arounds across all CAS agencies and minimize agency autonomy with respect to CPIN business harmonization.
- CAS agencies across the province operate independently and this is reflected in the range of services provided, management structures, administrative protocols and approaches to CPIN implementation.
- Some agencies are using three or more systems to perform information searches.
- Different work-arounds and forms are used from agency to agency, impeding access to information and hindering the core function of CPIN.
- Create a comprehensive provincial training manual.
- Establish a designated pool of provincial trainers that provide standardized training across the province on an ongoing basis as needed. Trainers should have no less than one year of on-the-job experience using CPIN.
- Ministry directives are being implemented differently across agencies. Agency autonomy is producing different approaches and fixes to problems with CPIN. These variations undermine the establishment of a consistent standard approach to training.
- Business harmonization decisions should be made before training. Otherwise, trainers are unable to answer questions beyond basic functionality.
- Training materials should include step-by-step instructions and standardized business decisions, demonstrations and tips. Supervisors require training to support frontline staff.
- Prioritize key functions that require an inordinate amount of time to complete and fix key functionality problems immediately.
- Create dedicated positions in finance departments to input payment requests.
- Provide more time and support to integrated child welfare positions.
- CPIN must enable a function to minimize and save for all screens to eliminate constant toggle between documents.
- Inputting is time-consuming and prone to error due to the number of steps and complexity involved.
- Difficulty meeting the 24-hour standard for case notes is now a systemic problem.
- Searching file histories is very difficult, especially when searching for parents who were previously in care.
- There continue to be multiple entries for the same person.
- The process for payment requests is complicated, time-consuming, and prone to failure.
- Scanning is inefficient because the system requires creation of a “shell” first; documents are being scanned incorrectly or uploaded into the wrong place.
- Information needs to be input individually for each member of the family rather than via a pull-forward option.
- Referral information is being entered differently, for example, phone numbers are entered as 1519 or 519, and naming conventions differ.
- For children in Care Milestones, document due dates are not generated by the system and have to be tracked manually.
- The CPIN learning curve is much steeper and there is greater room for error for those in “Integrated positions.”
- MCYS must provide adequate funding to ensure that provincial standards are met and must provide more direct service hours to families and children. CPIN has now cost over $200 million since implementation began. The cost continues to grow since the original projected cost of $122 million.
- Additional costs associated with CPIN implementation are not adequately funded by the ministry.
- Agencies that face deficits and undergo ministry audits are looking for savings from the workforce.
- Agencies are offsetting unbudgeted costs for CPIN through their base budgets.
- The Auditor General reported in 2015 that these additional costs are funded through the societies’ own operating funds, which may cause further hardship and potentially impact protection services.
- MCYS must require agencies to submit the following data to the CPIN Priority Review Board: a) the number of hours that workers now direct to administration in contrast to direct service hours; and b) the usage of sick leave time since implementing CPIN.
- MCYS must set standards to significantly reduce the amount of time spent on administrative tasks and thereby increase direct service hours to families and children.
- Staff consistently report that it can take three to five times longer to complete administrative tasks in CPIN than with previous technology.
- Inputting a referral used to take 30 to 45 minutes to complete and is now taking 1.5 hours to complete. One support staff noted that she went from scanning 150 documents per day to 50.
- Some agencies have counted upwards of 10,000 hours going into preparation and training for CPIN rollout.
- Ongoing shut-downs of the system further exacerbate workload.
Many of CPIN’s challenges were foreseeable and preventable. The government contracted IBM Curam to customize software to child welfare functions at an original cost of $122 million. Curam has a track record of implementing problematic software programs in the public sector, most notably the Social Assistance Management System (SAMS) purchased by the province to manage social assistance and the Phoenix payroll system purchased by the federal government.
Frontline CAS workers are concerned about the expedited pace of implementation, given the significant problems that persist and ongoing concerns that CAS workers cannot successfully meet provincial standards under these conditions.
We understand that the government wants to be pro-active, but proceeding with expanding a software program with such fundamental limitations is shortsighted at best. We are concerned about the broad-ranging impact this is having on child welfare intervention.
OPSEU will continue to ask MCYS to halt the roll out of CPIN until functional problems are fixed, to fund the additional, mounting costs of implementation, and to address the workload burden that is compromising standards and direct service hours. Our most vulnerable children deserve better.
For a PDF of the CPIN bulletin, click here