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Kentucky Cabinet for Families and Children
Foster Children Services Improved with GIS Technology
All young people need help as they move from living with their family to living on their own. Those in foster care have the same needs as youths living with their biological families, although after they exit foster care those youths often may not have the same resources as other young people. This lack of resources becomes especially critical during the following year or two post-foster care, roughly the 18-20-year-old age range.
Right: The locations of all eligible youth in foster care. Clicking on "Search Results" at the upper right would bring up a detailed database listing of demographic characteristics of these youth and their care providers.
One resource for these young people is the Chafee Foster Care Independence Program (CFCIP), a federally funded program to promote the development of independent living skills by children in foster care. In Kentucky, the CFCIP is administered by the Cabinet for Families and Children (CFC). Kentucky's CFCIP provides a wide range of life skills training and experience to youth in care as well as those who have left care. Work on independent living skills begins at age 12 and continues until youth reach the age of 21.
The Kentucky Independent Living Life Skills curriculum includes the areas of employment skills, money management, accessing community resources, finding and maintaining housing, and completing education. Formal skills classes are taught by independent living coordinators or private child care contractors around the State and are reinforced by experiential activities and field trips. Youth participating in the program learn such things as how to fill out a job application, write a resumé and cover letter, open and balance a checking account, find local health facilities in their neighborhoods, look for appropriate housing, and fill out college admission and financial aid applications. In short, the Kentucky CFCIP helps to prepare youth to exit State care and live on their own.
The servicestailored to the differing needs of children at different ages and with different abilitiesare provided by foster parents, staff, and contract agencies.
Optimal allocation of resources to achieve the most efficient use of limited funding is imperative. Knowing which young people need or have already received particular services, and knowing their location in relation to the location of available staff and training sites, is essential. Yet the time required to manually manipulate these complex variables and determine these spatial relationships is simply not available to those who are busy delivering the services.
Recognizing the growing success of GIS technology in many other areas of data integration and service delivery management, the Division of Protection and Permanency in the CFC decided to employ this approach for providing demographic, service delivery, and locational data to staff and agencies providing CFCIP services.
The software chosen was MapObjects and MapObjects Internet Map Server (IMS). was selected because of its straightforward custom query capability required by the CFCIP program and agency users. The ability to integrate MapObjects functions within the Visual Basic (VB) programming language enabled easy development of custom server processes.
The consultant chosen to implement the solution was PlanGraphics, Inc., a provider of professional spatial information technology services and an Esri Business Partner.
Basic issues in the development process included conversion of data from the State's information system to a GIS-compatible format including geocoding all addresses using GDT's DynaMap 2000 software and establishing procedures for maintaining confidentiality of sensitive information. The actual programming of the application took little time once the user requirements and technical specifications for the application were developed. After initial programming was complete, MapObjects made it quite simple to modify and fine-tune the application to meet final users' needs.
The application was designed to facilitate rapid location, retrieval, mapping, and reporting of key program data. It allows CFCIP service providers to locate and research individuals and related data through an easy-to-use customized interface.
In order to allow for ease and speed of use, predefined query modules were established for several categories: eligible youth grouped by demographic characteristics, individual eligible youth, location of youth in relation to offices and staff, or location of staff and offices in relation to youth. Results from any of the query modules display in the map window and are also listed in a separate browser window as a text report with hyperlinks to complete data provided in the text window. Other application features include buffer searching and an online help system.
The first search module offers two modes: one for searching for individual youth, and one for finding groups of youth defined by demographic and service delivery criteria. The individual search has been developed as a demographically based query, where a single young person in the State's out-of-home care reporting system may be located. For example, a worker may want to locate a youth who had earlier indicated interest in the program.
The group search locates eligible youth by one or more demographic or service delivery criteria. For example, a worker may want to locate all of the 17-year-old youth in foster care in one of the State's administrative regions who have completed an assessment but have not completed skills training. Or the query might be for all of the 12-16-year-old youth in group homes who have not completed assessments. A range of combinations are available by simply clicking the appropriate radio buttons.
The office and staff location function was established as a name and address search module, where either name or address, or both, may be used to locate, map, and report on key office and staff data.
The buffer feature of the application allows the user to obtain the names, as well as demographic and service delivery information, for eligible youth within a user-defined distance from a service provider or training site.
The buffer feature further enables users to locate service providers within a user-defined distance of any individual child. For example, a social worker might want to know if there are any CFCIP staff or training sites within 15 miles of where the child lives.
The ability to provide both mapped and tabular data, along with the spatial analysis functions of the application, greatly enhances the CFC's ability to optimize resource allocation for meeting the specific needs of eligible youth throughout the State. At the same time, it reduces staff workload by facilitating service delivery planning on a day-to-day basis.
No computer program can replace or compete with the value of a personal caring relationship in helping a young person succeed, but this program does give the worker more time to develop and maintain such relationships.
Because of the confidential nature of client data, access to the application is limited to users providing direct services to young people in need. If there is sufficient interest, a demo version using spurious "data" may be created.
For more information, contact Mike Yocum (tel.: 502-564-2147, e-mail: Mike.Yocum@mail.state.ky.us) or Jim Fries (tel.: 502-223-1501, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org) or Mike Bober (e-mail: email@example.com).