Smart phones, such as the Blackberry, iPhone, and Android phones can run a very wide array of applications, often called “apps.” Developers have created apps for almost every field of human endeavor. Innovative apps from the medical, behavioral health, and human services fields offer child welfare professionals intriguing new tools to help children and families.
A recent app called Verbal Victor demonstrates the potential of smart phone use as an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device to help children with developmental delays and other communication challenges to express themselves and communicate with caregivers and peers. Originally designed and named for a child with Pitt-Hopkins Syndrome, Verbal Victor helps children with a variety of speech or language issues to learn and communicate by pressing an image on the phone that generates a corresponding recorded phrase. The caregiver or therapist is able to create customized icons and sounds through the phone’s camera and microphone.
SERVING THE PUBLIC
Mobile apps can also promote communication between agencies and the general public. The Michigan Department of Human Services recently launched a smart phone app that connects to several DHS resources. The app allows anyone to report child abuse by phone or email with the press of a button. It also provides information on applying for DHS services or becoming a foster parent.
MENTAL HEALTH SELF-MONITORING
Smart phones can also provide a useful platform for mental health self-monitoring and diagnostic tools for children and adults. A recent example is the T2 Mood Tracker (http://t2health.org/apps/t2-mood-tracker), originally developed for military service members suffering from depression and PTSD. The T2 Mood Tracker allows users to track emotional responses, environmental influences, and make notes for their own use or to share with health professionals.
MENTAL HEALTH SCREENING
The mym3 (http://www.mymoodmonitor.com/) is a mobile adaption of the M-3 Checklist, developed as a tool to help primary care doctors screen for depression and anxiety disorders. The mym3 app provides links and recommendations from the M3 web site based on the user’s responses to the screening questions. The app provides a direct link to Mental Health America’s National Suicide Hotline for users who indicate that they are at risk of suicide.
A recent award-winning innovation in Florida is demonstrating the potential of a mobile workspace for caseworkers. In 2008, Our Kids, the local lead agency for child welfare in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, partnered with AT&T to create the OK Connect system, which uses lightweight laptops and smart phones that provide phone and internet access, GPS navigation, resource files, a camera, and case management tools that integrate with the state SACWIS. This mobile case management system allows caseworkers secure access to their case files from anywhere in the state. They can enter data and visitation notes that are transferred directly into the state SACWIS database, eliminating the need to return to the office to enter data. Paper case files are scanned and indexed so that the caseworkers can access them remotely. These remote case management tools help caseworkers verify information and connect families with resources while still in the home.
Other mobile technologies for case management are also being developed for the social services. For example, the FAMcare system (famcare.net) is a case management solution that caseworkers can access using desktop or laptop computers, smart phones, and tablets. Because the system is web-based, child welfare agencies do not need many IT resources to start using it.
THE FUTURE OF SMART PHONES
As smart phones become even more powerful and widely available, they will offer solutions that combine much of the functionality of a tablet with the portability and affordability of the basic cell phone. Smart phones will surely provide child welfare workers with tools to help monitor the well being of the children in their care, connect families with resources, and stay connected with their clients and agency from anywhere.
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Michigan Department of Human Services (2010). Michigan Department of Human Services launches mobile application for partners as way to better serve clients. Available at: http://www.michigan.gov/dhs/0,1607,7-124–248255–,00.html . Accessed December 30, 2010.
Child Welfare League of America (2009). Our Kids Caseworkers Go Digital in South Florida. Children’s Voice, March/April 2009.
Kouzehkanani, R.& Dyer, A. (March 31, 2010). Creating Child-Centric Visits Using Florida’s Mobile iSACWIS. Available at: http://cwistraining.org/rc/rcdata/EventInformation/NationalTrainingEv/9thAnnualNational/Dyer.pdf . Accessed January 3, 2011.
Wireless Technology Keeps Foster Children Safer. Available at: http://smallbiz.att.com/OSB/Idea-Exchange/Case-Studies-Detail.page?type=LiveSite:News&dcr=templatedata/LiveSite/News/data/Wireless_Technology_Keeps_FFoste_Children_Safer.xml&contentId=g6f6brfi. Accessed January 3, 2011.
State of Florida, Department of Children and Families (April 28, 2010). Florida Department of Children and Families Receives BlackBerry Award for New Technology Improving Safety of Foster Children. Available at: http://www.dcf.state.fl.us/newsroom/pressreleases/20100428_BlackBerry_RDC.shtml . Accessed December 30, 2010.
The Old Gold & Black (January 13, 2011). App helps children with speech disability. Available at http://oldgoldandblack.com/?p=12282 . Accessed February 9, 2011.