With an annual turnover rate of 50 percent, being a case worker for the Indiana Department of Child Services isn’t for everyone. But Kevin Jones, the department’s chief information officer, said that the introduction of a virtual-reality simulation to show applicants what the job is like before they sign on has reduced that turnover figure by 18 percent.
Jones, who on Monday was awarded for his work by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, said on the organization’s “Voices” podcast that before the introduction of VR, staff turnover was costing his department $72 million annually. He also said he expects retention to continue increasing as the department learns how to use the data collected by the new technology.
“One of the things I really focused on is what is causing that problem?” Jones said. “And a lot of it was a lack of data on the front line, even more so a lack of business intelligence that can inform our family case managers of what is the best decision or what are some strategies and tactics that may help you when you get stuck in a solution or in a situation providing a solution to a child.”
While some of his colleagues chalked up the high turnover rate to the low pay that goes with being a case worker, Jones told NASCIO he began pushing for “evidence-based explanations.” The department began collecting data from outgoing case workers and found that more than half of the case workers who left voluntarily said the experience of doing the job was completely different than what they’d imagined before starting.
“So I decided that we wanted to give them the experience of the job prior to being hired,” Jones said. “So what we decided to do was to implement virtual reality that gives them a fully simulated real live actor, engage with it from end to end.”
Jones said the simulations give would-be case workers a chance to experience what they might encounter during a home visit, speaking to parents under the influence of drugs or alcohol and interacting with a child. In addition to lending applicants insight, Jones said the program also enables the department to adjust its case-worker training sessions to address routine mistakes that crop up.
In addition to VR, Jones said he also redesigned the systems architecture of Indiana’s child welfare system and that officials in more than a dozen other states have since contacted him asking for documentation that will allow them to replicate his work in their child services departments.