New technology helping social workers, families across Virginia

Virginia investing $10 million in new technology

Virginia investing $10 million dollars in new technology

ROANOKE – Children who are in danger of being removed from their homes sometimes get help from social workers before going into foster care. The biological family works with social services to problem solve and keep children safe.

Virginia is investing $10 million in new technology to make their jobs easier.

Whitney Caldwell is on the front lines, trying to keep kids in their homes and out of foster care but a lot of her day is spent doing paperwork.

"We serve a lot of families, and we want to make sure we are giving them the time they need. Documentation is important, but we want to make sure it's not cutting into the time that we need to be serving families," said Caldwell, a Roanoke City Department of Social Services (DSS) family services specialist.

A new iPad and a new COMPASS mobile app are making it a lot easier to document who she calls and sees. It's being rolled out across Virginia to about 2,000 people.

"We can barely get our workers trained before they were leaving our field," said Laura Polk, Virginia DSS COMPASS program manager who is overseeing the new technology, replacing a decades old system.

She says the burnout rate for workers is 25% in under 2 years, costing the Commonwealth about a million dollars a year. Polk says every time a worker leaves it takes longer to help families because a new worker has to catch up and not everything is documented correctly about what's worked before.

"You don't want to be chained to your desk. You don't want to be doing paperwork. You want to be out and doing things. I think that's why we all got into the field is to work with people and to change people's lives," said Matt Raiten, a Roanoke City DSS family services specialist.

Raiten tested the software and is helping train his co-workers who can now do a lot of work in the field.
They have access to electronic documents, pictures, and medical records.

"It's going to be all secured. It's not going to be on papers which can easily be lost, can easily be lost by them. I'm going to have it all right there at my fingertips so it's going to be amazing," said Raiten.

This could become a model across the country. There are only a few states using similar technology, but they say this is the most state-of-the-art.

Roanoke City is being studied to see how this type of technology makes a difference. All the workers who need the new iPads will have them by early next year.

Polk says social workers helped design the application, which hasn't been done before.

If you have questions about foster care/adoption, contact Shannon Shepherd at DePaul Community Resources at, (276) 623-0881 ext. 1519 or online at

There are more than 700 children who are ready for foster to adoption in Virginia. They are ready to find a permanent and loving forever family. 10 News is profiling one child who needs a home every day at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. in 30 Days of Hope. The children are all ages and races and were put into foster care due to no fault of their own. 2019 marks the third year 10 News is doing this series.

About the Author:

You can see Jenna weekday mornings at the anchor desk on WSLS 10 Today from 5-7 a.m. She also leads our monthly Solutionaries Series, where we highlight the creative thinkers and doers working to make the world a better place.