6/16/19 County creates tool to help kids on rough days
Isaac Groves / Times-News
Angela Cole, Child Welfare Program manager with the county Department of Social Services, holds a phone running the new app.
County creates tool to help kids on rough days
By Isaac Groves, The Times-News 6/16/19
Reprinted with permission.
Kids don’t always know why they’re having a bad day at school, but when there’s been domestic violence, a parent has been hurt or arrested, they’ve been evicted or put in a foster home, it’s pretty obvious.
Schools can’t stop that kind of trauma, but with a new tool, teachers and principals can cut them a little slack and keep an eye out if they know something is wrong.
“Just ask for a little extra patience care and love,” said Angela Cole, Child Welfare Program manager with the county Department of Social Services.
Of course, things like that are generally confidential. Now, schools can get a message through a smart phone application called Handle With Care that doesn’t tell what exactly a child has been going through, or who sent it — police or DSS— just that the child could use some support and/or some space.
The idea came from West Virginia, said Marlena Isley, county GIS director. Social workers at a Family Justice Center conference out of state heard about it and thought it could do a lot of good here, Cole said.
That system just worked on email, Cole said, which doesn’t do as much to protect the child’s privacy. If principals knows the information comes from DSS, it gives them more of an idea of what the problem could be.
Former DSS Director Susan Osborne liked the idea and got the county’s help. Isley took the lead on creating the app and brought in programmer Nathan Moore. They ended up writing it from scratch. That wasn’t their first choice, but there were too many problems with licensing and privacy using existing survey apps like Google Forms or Survey 123.
“So Nathan Moore took over and made something more custom,” Isley said.
The basic coding took a couple of weeks followed by 12 hours of editing, which is pretty quick for this kind of process, Moore said.
It’s a very basic app with a gray screen to do a simple job. A responder turns on the app, and it sends a verification email to the approved agency email. That makes the verification process simpler, Moore said, without passwords and all the complications that go with them. Once the verification is done, the responder puts in the child’s name and chooses from a list of local schools.
“We try not to give any specific details because we don’t want to have any privacy concerns,” Moore said.
The app then notifies a designated school liaison who tells the people who need to know, Moore said.
“Designated school counselors and school social workers are able to monitor student behaviors and support those indicated in the alerts,” LaJuana Norfleet, chief student support officer for the Alamance-Burlington School System, wrote in an email to the Times-News.
So far, just the Burlington police and DSS are using the app, but it will be quick and easy to train other agencies and add their emails to the system, Moore said.
It’s also something the county owns, so it’s something the county can share.
“That’s one good thing about building it custom from scratch,” Moore said. “I designed it with the idea of sharing it with other counties. It’s just good.”
Since January, according to Norfleet, schools have gotten 60 alerts through the Handle With Care app. They have all been within the Burlington city limits, but she hopes it will expand to county agencies soon.
“That’s the vision,” Cole said.