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Innovative Child Welfare Pilot Project Streamlines Process for Interstate Placements & Saves Money

In February, the American Public Human Services Association (APSHA), the Association of Administrators of the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (AAICPC) and Voice for Adoption, together with the federal Children’s Bureau (CB) hosted a congressional briefing to highlight the progress seen among six pilot states participating in the National Electronic Interstate Compact Enterprise (NEICE) project. This project was designed to revolutionize permanency outcomes for children and families by creating an electronic method for the current outdated Interstate Compact of the Placement of Children (ICPC) process. The current method involves paper mailing and faxing between social workers whenever an interstate placement is needed. Delayed, lost, or misplaced mail could mean that children removed from unstable environments are not placed as quickly as desired with more permanent caregivers that happen to live in another state. The innovative NEICE pilot was created to improve efficiency and decrease delays, to ensure that ICPC cases are processed at a much faster rate. NEICE is a cloud-based system that translates data between states using NIEM standards. NIEM stands for: National Information Exchange Model. These standards were developed so that diverse communities could collectively share data and improve local and government challenges in exchanging information across states and various systems. These standards were created between a collaborative effort by the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security. The NEICE pilot is the first of its kind to implement the use of the NIEM standards within the child welfare community. The idea of the NEICE project stemmed from the web-based Interstate Compact System (ICS) developed in the state of Florida. The ICS system in Florida has significantly shortened processing times and reduced administrative costs for the state. It is the hope that NEICE, once fully implemented, will replicate these accomplishments for all states that participate.

The six states involved in the pilot include: Florida, Indiana, Nevada, South Carolina, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia. The NEICE project was launched in November and went live in these states in August 2014. The funding for the project exists through February 2015, with evaluation results expected in early May 2015. The project is funded under the Partnership Fund for Program Integrity Innovation through a cooperative agreement to APHSA from the federal Administration for Children and Families (ACF). The Partnerships Fund provides grant dollars to evaluate projects that test ideas for improving federal assistance programs. The six states mentioned have been testing the “electronic information exchange” for processing ICPC cases with an interest to expand the platform to include national application, so that in the near future all states can electronically share files when needed. However, implementation of a national expansion is dependent upon new funding to scale the project. Project administrators estimate the national expansion to cost between $3 and $4 million dollars.

In just the short 6 months that these states have been testing the new system, there have been outstanding improvements. The NEICE project has already shown significant achievement in efficiency in the interstate placement of children involved in the project evaluation. Preliminary results indicate that the average number of days between “date of order” and “package sent” dropped from 44 to 21 days. The normal process that took 20 days has dropped to 11 days. Preliminary evaluation results showed that, of the six pilot states involved, the average number of business days between sending and receiving states receiving the case files is cut nearly in half. These results are preliminary, yet promising, as they show noteworthy efficiency in placement improvements. These reductions are not only good for the children and families involved, but the government as well. These improvements have significant implications for cost savings, both in the dollars spent on mailing and copying, but also on staff time and the number of days a child spends in foster care. The preliminary evaluation results have shown that, on average states spend roughly $25 dollars per case on printing and copying alone. These figures suggest that on average states spend approximately $1.7 million dollars nationally just on copying and mailing of ICPC cases. Again, these figures do not include the labor savings for staff time involved in the production of copying and mailing case files, nor do they account for improved child placement rates.    

The NEICE pilot is an innovative child welfare development; it is a project that holds great potential for various data sharing elements, both across state boarders, but also potentially across other state systems. Project administrators are imagining the possibilities for interoperability. For example, the impact of data sharing across systems involved with serving children, such as multiple system providers being able to communicate about youth who are involved in juvenile justice and child welfare, or youth at-risk of sex trafficking.

The Congressional briefing focused on the NEICE pilot was an opportunity to highlight something that is working well for children and families and also saving money and improving efficiency within child welfare. Opportunities for finding ways to scale NEICE nationally could have a significant impact on already strained child welfare budgets. This project also sets forward a national dialogue about NEICE’s interoperability potential and what expansion could mean for protecting and serving more children and families through the utilization of technology tools. As mentioned, for now the project currently exists for only 6 states and extends only through the beginning of this year. However, program administrators are dedicated to finding ways to take the project to scale, so that more children will benefit from this development that has lead to a more efficient ICPC process.

Nicole Dobbins, Executive Director, Voice for Adoption - Fostering Families Today Magazine Article, 2015