Starting up the new computer system that is supposed to make it easier to track Maryland's child welfare cases has been postponed once again in Baltimore. But the delay seems unavoidable, as recurring glitches need to be fixed before sensitive information can be entrusted to the system and relied on by caseworkers. State and city officials promise to get the system on track in the next month or so, which is a good thing because the potential benefits are important.
The new monitoring system, dubbed Chessie, promises to make child-welfare data collection uniform throughout the state. It would help caseworkers keep track of caseloads and determine whether abused and neglected children and their families are getting the services they need. Are medical and counseling appointments being kept? Is the child attending school regularly? What progress is being made toward providing the child with a safe and stable setting?
After years of delay and sorting out the kinks, 23 counties are on board, although not all happily. Critics have complained about, among other things, faulty search engines and quality-control issues. Those are certainly legitimate areas of concern, and state officials concede that caseworkers have not always had adequate technical support or sufficient additional training to help them make the transition to the new system.
They now promise that will not be the situation in Baltimore, which has the state's largest and most severe caseload and is the last jurisdiction to implement Chessie. Officials at Maryland's Department of Human Resources insist that city caseworkers will have enough help before and after Chessie fully comes online in Baltimore next month.
That's no guarantee of success, but immediate success might not be possible in the first stages of implementing a complicated new system. The important thing is to get it up and running - not only because the federal government, which has pushed the system for about a decade and has provided about half of its more than $60 million cost, may impose fines, but also because the system promises greater efficiencies.
Along with committed, well-trained caseworkers who can take advantage of those efficiencies, Chessie could go a long way toward making Maryland's child welfare system a lot more effective. And to abused and neglected children and their families, that's what counts.