Juvenile justice related blogs

Kitsap County Talks About RiteTrack

Kitsap County went live on RiteTrack in January 2017. In this video clip, Michael Merringer, Director of the Kitsap County Juvenile Court Administration talks about the implementation of RiteTrack, it’s impact so far, and what it is like to work with Handel.

Embracing Technology in the Juvenile Justice Field

Many organizations and those working in them feel anxious when starting to evaluate or implement a technology project. This anxiety may center around implementing the new technology and ensuring that the day-to-day users will accept and use the technology. Technology should be selected and implemented to ultimately help improve services and efficiency for the organization.

I hosted a webinar during which I examined common issues that arise when implementing new technology and pointed out four main aspects that every organization should address when trying to help users or organizations embrace technology. It’s an important topic to evaluate when considering a new system.

The webinar provided valuable information that administrators can use to help alleviate any resistance they face. One of the most important points to remember is to involve the users, line staff, data entry specialists, or other integral parties in the implementation process. If administrators can get the staff to buy in and embrace the new technology, then the likelihood of a successful implementation and a positive experience is higher.

I am reminded of a saying “junk in will equal junk out.” Meaning if staff are not entering information into the system as it is designed, then the outcomes will not be what is expected. During the webcast, I provided practical steps every agency can use to overcome resistance to embracing technology and highlighted the benefits of incorporating technology into operations.

Please view the recorded webinar here to learn some practical steps and points that will assist you in embracing and successfully implementing technology in your organization.

Kitsap County Juvenile and Family Court Services Goes Live on New RiteTrack Case Management System

RiteTrackKitsap County Juvenile Family and Court Services went live on a RiteTrack system in January 1, 2017. This implementation represents the culmination of years of work and planning to create a system that spans data from three areas: juvenile detention, youth offenders, and non-offenders.

Juvenile detention cases encompass sentenced youth or youth brought in by law enforcement. Youth offender cases cover drug courts and diversion efforts while non-offender cases deal with children in need of services (CHINS), at-risk youth (ARY), child protective services (CPS), and truancies. With all of this juvenile case management information centralized, the ease that staff can provide services to has been bolstered.

The County signed a contract with Handel in April of 2016 and many of the staff worked diligently on defining the scope and working closely with the designated Project Manager to outline processes to incorporate into the system. Project Manager Ben McKay said “our success is based on our partners, and the dedication from Kitsap’s team helped ensure the successful implementation of this project.”

Kitsap County Juvenile Family and Court Services uses RiteTrack’s standard functionality and also configured the system to meet specific needs and create specialized reports. One of the most valuable reports is the juvenile year-over-year comparison that aggregates data from the system including the length of stay and demographics to provide a big picture of trending changes and generates data to submit to the state of Washington for reporting purposes.

In order to recognize the hard work and diligence that went into a successful project of this scope, the County held a celebration February 16, 2017. (Read our blog about it here) We’re so pleased to have developed a strong, working relationship with the leadership and staff at Kitsap County Juvenile Family and Court Services.

Kitsap County’s Juvenile Department/Superior Court is committed to providing innovative, comprehensive, and effective services to youth, families, schools and the community within a quality work environment, by professional, caring staff.

Handel creates RiteTrack, a web-based, centralized database, information management software that is used by juvenile justice agencies throughout the country. It provides the primary means for caseworkers, administrators and other professionals to manage their clients and caseloads and provides reliable reporting to generate reliable data.

Improving Processes and Creating a Successful Implementation for Kitsap County Juvenile and Family Court Services

It all began with a conference presentation on OneNote and a question.

“This could be described as a ‘textbook project,” said Bud Harris, Director, Information Services. “It began at the right place, the right time, with the right thought processes, and all the right people came together.”

The concept that grew into the Kitsap County Juvenile Family and Court Services RiteTrack Case Management System came from the question: what if involved youths’ records could be better managed and the information shared between programs?

Michael Merringer, Juvenile Court Administrator, became involved with probation in the 1990s and found that common practices for managing youth records created segregated, unreliable information. Every time a juvenile came into detention, they would make a new paper file for them that would include assessments, medical history, and recommended programming which could not be easily shared nor was it common to share cross-department.

However, following the seemingly commonplace OneNote presentation, Merringer had a flash of insight. Wouldn’t it be great if they operated with ONE file for ONE kid? All forms would be carried in that file, staff would have access, various people could contribute, and everyone would have access to the information they needed (subject to appropriate security restrictions) while keeping everything up-to-date.

This was the vision that blossomed into the carefully planned, meticulously implemented project with an overall goal of improving access, security and accuracy of client information, examining and improving internal processes, and providing reliable, statistical data.

Sometimes projects also provide unintended benefits. Merringer said the RiteTrack project had such a benefit: process improvement. The key philosophy applied in this project was to look at the process first before applying the technology. The staff improved processes during the mapping phase by cutting out redundant efforts and wasted activity. Mapping processes across multiple departments created a visual representation of how each department dealt with their processes and cases, and was valuable because it provided visuals of the processes to assist in directing the technology. Because of this project, the Department can monitor processes and continually improve them to better meet the needs of staff, too.

After defining many internal processes, the department went to look at available options for juvenile justice information management systems. As with most system explorations options included building in-house, buying off-the-shelf, or some combination thereof. To find how other jurisdictions managed their juvenile data they visited other counties in the state and kept hearing about the RiteTrack Juvenile Justice Software from Handel IT. Because they defined processes prior to searching for a solution, they were able to use them to match process flows with available offerings.

Following the review of available options, the Department found that RiteTrack offered the combination of an off-the-shelf solution paired with configuration capabilities that could create a solution to perfectly fit the diligently outlined processes. After a competitive bidding process in 2015, RiteTrack and Handel were chosen as the solution and vendor for this project.

“Over several years a group of dedicated individuals accepted the challenge of creating an electronic environment for case management for the Department. Members of the team came from every area of the County and Juvenile Department. Working together as a team, the successful development of the Juvenile Department’s RiteTrack Case Management System was realized,” the Department’s launch party invitation read.

Kitsap County went live on its new RiteTrack Juvenile Case Management system on January 1, 2017. A celebration of the successful implementation and go-live took place in the offices of the Kitsap County Juvenile Court Administration on February 16.  Handel is pleased to partner with the Department and provide the tools to help create its ideal data management solution for its involved youth.

Relationship between RiteTrack and Disproportionate Minority Contact

When reviewing DMC aspects, in my mind I kept coming back to the issue of how much needs to be encompassed when implementing and maintaining DMC standards into a juvenile justice program. These standards incorporate assessments, evaluation, and monitoring of juveniles in care. However, DMC doesn’t only apply to youth in detention. It really incorporates all areas of youth contact within the juvenile justice continuum of care.

Example of statistical report with DMC data.

Often DMC communities may have an alternative reporting center within it. I’m curious to see how information is communicated between one part in the juvenile justice continuum of care with another part. There is the potential for an enormous amount of time to be spent creating policies that address information sharing parameters, managing confidential information, and memorandums of understanding between these organizations. Even though data points like race, ethnicity, gender, geography, and offenses seem straightforward, these would likely need to be clearly defined with consensus from members of the continuum of care.

So how can organizations or programs in the juvenile justice continuum of care address information challenges like these? Using a web-based software like RiteTrack as the single-point-of-entry tool provides the framework from which programs can support the youth and the stakeholders.

Risk Assessment tool in the solution.

For a community to address DMC, there has to be involvement from shareholders in the community.  There has to be planning and agreement on issues. Organizations must develop intervention that involves programming. Agencies need to evaluate whether the agreed upon plan is working. Finally, programs must be monitored to make sure that identified problems area continued to be addressed.  Within all of these steps, the most important area may be the collection of data because youth data is pervasive in all these steps.  RiteTrack collects data that occurs throughout all point of the juvenile justice continuum from first point-of-contact, risk assessment, community involvement, and if needed detention. In addition to extensive documentation, RiteTrack quickly generates reports and statistical data based on real-time data that is accurate and reliable. Implementing RiteTrack into operations is not just a procurement or download of another piece of software. It is a partnership with Handel IT to enhance and improve communities, not only by supporting a continuum of care, but also by creating a central point-of-entry to provide the framework to address DMC issues.

To see my most recent webcast reviewing DMC functionality and reporting in RiteTrack, click here and register to watch the recording.

 

 

September 20-22; 2017 Juvenile Justice Association of Michigan (JJAM) Annual Conference

October 11-13, 2017; Wisconsin Juvenile Detention Association (WJDA) 22nd Annual Fall Conference; Bellaire, MI

November 15-17, 2017; Juvenile Detention Centers and Alternatives Programs (JDCAP) Pennsylvania Juvenile Justice Services Conference; Pocono Manor, PA

Happy Holidays from Handel IT

It is again that time of the year when I look back and reflect on the year that was. First and foremost, I want to thank those of you we have worked with in 2016 and the many of you who are entertaining the idea of implementing RiteTrack in your juvenile, TANF, child welfare, or other social services program in the year to come. We are so grateful for the opportunity to work with you and we want to thank you for working with us and even more importantly I want to thank you for the difference you are making in the lives of the people that you help. I sleep well at night knowing that RiteTrack is a playing part in making sure hundreds of thousands of people are getting the best services that they can get for their needs.


It has been a tumultuous year in our country and in the world. The Presidential Election here in the U.S. certainly was different than any other election we have seen in recent history. Globally, hardly a day passes where we don’t read about another terror attack. For most of us, these unimaginable acts of hate are beyond comprehension.  While we are not entirely free of terror here on US ground, I do believe we live in a very safe country. Of course, from my perspective in Laramie, Wyoming, the least populous state in the union, my viewpoint may be just a bit biased. As somebody who grew up in Norway, another country often ranked high for quality of life and other measures, I will argue that the United States is still one of the greatest countries in the world. This is still the land of opportunity. It is a land where we welcome ideas and support those who have ideas. With the perspective of almost 30 years in this country it is interesting to think that coming here as foreigner in 1988 and barely spoke English, only 9 years later, I had finished two degrees, worked for another entrepreneurial startup, and then started Handel IT in 1997. I can think of many other places in our world where such a series of events simply would not be able to unfold.  We still continue to deal with a large number of challenges on our home front such as growing income inequality, a broken health care system, rising drug problems, slipping rankings on education, and increasing terrorist threats. I still believe when taken as a whole, our nation offers perhaps one of the best frameworks for individuals to succeed. We continue to rank high nationally in quality of life rankings, such as the one published by Numbeo https://www.numbeo.com/quality-of-life/rankings_by_country.jsp.


Looking at all the social services programs that we work with nationally, I remain in awe of the services that our clients provide to the people that they serve. In 2016 we have added several new customers, especially in the area of Tribal TANF (temporary assistance for needy families). You have probably heard me joke before that Rocket Science has nothing on TANF when it comes to complexity. In order to run a successful TANF program a Tribe (or a State for that matter) has to keep track of thousands of data points on each family that they serve. Calculating eligibility and keeping track of funding, measuring outcomes, and making sure allocations are being made according to all rules, are but a few of the tasks that a modern TANF program has to contend with. Doing so without a system like RiteTrack would be near impossible. It is such an honor for us to work with all these programs across the nation. One thing is resting assured that we are helping our customers with these very complex tasks. Even more important though are the services that our clients are providing to the families and individuals that they serve. More so than anything else, this is what I am the most proud of when it comes to Handel’s accomplishments. We want to thank you all for working with us in 2016. We are looking forward to continuing working with you and to add new customers to the RiteTrack family in 2017. Next year we will also be celebrating our 20th anniversary. Time flies when you are having fun. Until then I want to wish you the Happiest of Holidays and a Happy New Year!

-Even

To Build or Buy?  The Pros and Cons of Buying Off-The-Shelf vs. Building Your Own Case Management Software

In 2017 Handel will celebrate our 20th year in business. It really does not feel like 20 years since the day I sat up Handel’s first office in the basement of my house. We got our first break from customers who wanted us to build custom database solutions for them. Since I didn’t have a product to sell them, building custom software was the only way to stay in business. We initially developed a variety of custom software solutions including point-of-sale software (our POSIE POS software for local florists were an early hit), reporting software for bank portfolios, inventory management, and many other solutions long forgotten. Most of these solutions were so individually tailored that they were almost impossible to mass-market. However, they paid the bills and kept us in business during those early years. One day in 1998 an old college friend contacted me. She was working in the IT department of the human services division of a large Colorado county and they were looking for a database for managing youth in a juvenile diversion program. Perhaps because English is my second language or maybe because I had never had much exposure to the human services world, I neither knew what a “juvenile” was, nor what a “diversion program” was.  Not that this would stop me. I had bills to pay and a family to feed. “Of course I can do this” I thought. 2 months later, the pre-cursor to RiteTrack was delivered. The system did exactly what the customer had asked me to do and it worked really well. That is, until 15 or more employees used the system at the same time. Somehow in our negotiations we failed to discuss how many users would be using the system on a regular basis. The chosen solution was built on Microsoft Access. For all its power in terms of developing quick applications, Access at the time was not designed to support a large number of users, a task better handled by its big brother, Microsoft SQL Server. This was only one of many lessons we learned in those early years. Probably the most important lesson I learned: If you want to build a business you have to be really good at something. It is very hard to be successful at doing many different things for many different customers. The custom-shop model kept us alive for our first years and it led us directly to RiteTrack. Both good things because we would not be around today if we hadn’t started out this way. We chose to follow the path that RiteTrack created for us into the field of human services. We soon ditched all of our other efforts and became really good at one thing. A strange thing happened when we did this. Our business started to grow.
If you are a government agency looking to implement a complex human services software for managing the clients that you serve you are faced with a variety of choices. You can build a system in-house, you can hire a consultant to build a system for you, or you can choose from a variety of vendor-provided products. Unlike the late 1990s when we started out, the marketplace today offer “COTS” (commercial off-the-shelf) software for virtually any market niche. However, unlike the 99 cent apps you buy in an app-store, the type of social services government software we develop (often referred to as enterprise resource planning software, an unfortunate term in my opinion since most human services programs don’t think of themselves as an enterprise -a customer once asked if it had something to do with “Star Trek”) has to meet several complex requirements including business rules (rocket science has nothing on TANF eligibility), the number of different departments and users served, reporting requirements, security models, customizations specific to their particular county, state, or tribe, and many other variables. Large state software projects involving major government contractors frequently run into 8 figures ($10 -50 million is not uncommon). Needless to say, small government entities do not have total budgets (never mind IT budgets) that come close to such figures. In the perceived absence of existing COTS systems that can be had for much less, government entities often go the route of developing a custom solution system in-house or hiring a local developer with the expectations that the system will cost them a lot less. Unfortunately what may seem like a great deal up front ends up costing considerably more over time and exposes your organization to a great amount of risk.
The process often goes something like this:
Said project has a finite budget. A request for proposal (RFP) is put out. Vendors bid on the project. A local software developer comes in with the lowest bid. By law, you the customer has to go with lowest bidder. The local software developer has stellar credentials when it comes to having all the right technical skills but has no domain expertise (like us at the start, they have no concept of your domain, being it juvenile justice, child welfare, TANF or other). You on the other hand have all this knowledge but no expertise with complex software projects. Seems like a match made in heaven. Or not.
Having been on both sides of the fence, both as the custom software developer and later as the “COTS” vendor, we feel qualified to speak on this subject. While the low-bidder-local-custom-shop developer may look good on paper, there are a lot of hidden costs and risks associated with custom software projects.  We have seen some of these projects succeed, many fail outright and most never living up to the customer’s expectations.
Here are some of the common pitfalls of custom software projects:
The Vendor Does Not Understand Your Job
Software developers are very good with what is in their technical toolbox whether that is mobile app development, web development, database design, or traditional desktop software development. However, the left-brain dominant traits often found in those attracted into the computer science field, such as problem solving, algorithmic thinking, and a general excitement for technology also can be a detriment to these same individuals trying to understand common problems faced by those who work in the human services field. As somebody who probably falls more into the left-brain category, I can assure you, 100s of projects in the human services field can not substitute for actually having been a social worker or worked in the field of human services. First, I would dare to say that those attracted to the field of computer science are generally disposed of the typical people skills required when serving other human beings. Second, until you have actually worked in this field, it is very hard to put yourself into those people’s role. So, no matter how well you communicate the job of a social worker, even the most well-meaning, right-brain inclinded software developer will never get a complete understanding of your needs.
Your Organization Lacks Experience with Complex Software Projects
For lack of anyone else in the organization who volunteers, you become the point person for overseeing the new software project. You went to school to get a degree in social work because you love helping people, yet, here you find yourself in charge of overseeing the implementation of a highly complex software system. You are constantly trying to stay one step ahead of the software developers you are working with, all the while tearing your hair out and wondering how you ended up in this situation. You find yourself Googling words like “scrum”, “agile development” and “procedural design”.
You and the Vendor Both Underestimate What It Will Take To Succeed
Complex custom software projects always come in ahead of schedule and under budgets. False. Most complex software projects where there is a great amount of uncertainty usually stick to the original design document? Again, false.
The truth is, when you are dealing with a vendor (or an internal programmer) who have been tasked with developing software for something they know very little about and you have been tasked with being the representative for your organization in charge of the project, something you have never done before, suggesting that there are a lot of risk factors would be the understatement of the year. These projects always start out with a lot of positive energy. This should be easy! We should have something up and running in two months. There are two primary reasons why projects like these rarely come in on time and on budget. The first category is that there is a lot of uncertainty with these types of projects and you simply can’t know what you don’t know. There are often a lot of surprises lurking around the corner. Once you got the eligibility matrix in place you realized that you had forgotten to account for some of the key data points required to calculate eligibility. Back to the drawing board. The second reason is what is commonly referred to as “scope creep”. That scenario goes something like this: We have already created a place for tracking staff and caseloads. While we are add it, it should be easy to add in a piece to track our staff’s various certifications. I once had a software developer ban me from ever using the term “should be easy” in the context of software development. Once one “should be easy” turns into ten “should be easy” you have a problem: It is no longer easy. Our recommendation is to have great initial design specs and save the “would be nice” and “should be easy” for a future phase.
You Wait Until Everything is Perfect to Go Live
This is somewhat related to the previous paragraph. If you wait until everything is perfect in your custom software solution, you will probably never go live. Nothing in life is perfect and this is rarely more true than when it comes to technology. Even the best developed most quality tested software will have unforeseen glitches once it goes from production into the hands of the end-users. You will never be able to foresee all the challenges your end-users will put you through. Furthermore, some of your design assumptions will always turn out to be wrong anyway, so no need to wait until everything is perfect. No matter how perfect you think it is, you will find something you forgot once you go live. Better find this out sooner rather than later.
Vendor Is Not Around To Support You in the Long Run
When we implement RiteTrack for a client it is not uncommon that we replace an existing system that was developed in-house. The two most common reasons for switching to a new system are:
  • The technology is obsolete.
  • The person who wrote the system is long gone.
Working with a vendor who is providing an off-the-shelf system you are less likely to run into either of these situations. The vendor typically provides upgrades so that the software stays current. The vendor is less likely to disappear than an employee. While the latter does happen, we find that most vendors in our market space has been around for a long time. Sometimes companies get acquired but the software typically continue to exist under the new owner.
Not Playing Well With Others
Another common issue we see in home-grown systems is that they are often not designed to easily integrate with other systems or they are not built using standardized data schema, thus making it hard for third-parties to pull information out, or for integrating with other systems.
Conclusion
There are many hidden risks and costs associated with building a human services software system in-house. While this option appears attractive on the surface, it often ends up being much more expensive than finding an existing solution from a vendor who has experience in your space. Worse yet, with a custom-built system you have little assurances to fall back on in the likely risk of failure. With a vendor, failure is typically not an option because the vendor stakes their entire reputation on their product. If you have any questions about this, I would welcome the opportunity to hear from you.