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standardization | Children | welfare
The Hague convention on Intercountry Adoptions reflects the importance of protecting vulnerable minors from further distress. This procedure typically involves more than one public administration together with the handling of sensitive data and represents a significant challenge for all involved. This was the case in Italy and became the subject for project â€œAdozioni Internazionali Modello Siciliaâ€, aiming to: 1) Improve efficiency of overall procedure; 2) Integrate effectively all actors in the procedure (Adoptions Commission, Regions, Courts, Social Services, Health boards, Adoption agencies); 3) Eliminate paper-based systems through use of certified electronic communication, and 4) Improve workflow allowing for effective real time monitoring and evaluation.
The groups primarily concerned with the automation process were the Ministry of Justice, Region, Juvenile courts, Social Services and Health board.
The Hague Convention (May 29, 1993) provides for the co-ordination of legal systems, and for international judicial and administrative co-operation to strengthen protection for children, biological parents, and prospective adoptive parents. It strives to provide children with permanent, loving homes by setting out internationally agreed-upon rules and procedures for adoptions between countries that have a treaty relationship under the Convention. It ultimately provides a framework that enables member countries to work together to ensure that adoptions take place in the best interests of the child and prevent abduction, sale of, and the trafficking of children.
The basic principle is that of a hierarchy of possible protective measures. The first and most desirable possibility requiring verification is that of allowing the minor to continue living with his/her natural family and to create the conditions necessary to achieve this, e.g. economic support or counselling for the family. The second possibility is that of temporary or permanent care within the home country leading to national adoption. The final option, failing a positive outcome of the first two possibilities, is to proceed with international adoption.
The Convention also establishes a Central Authority in each country to ensure that one authoritative source of information and contact point for prospective adoptive parents requiring reliable and accurate information. This means working in a sector internationally governed by a single set of norms. This is of particular importance when considered in the context of the European Union and its immediate neighbours.
The initial project was of an experimental nature in both a new context and a challenging environment. We knew that success depended on the creation of a vision of the project shared by all stakeholders at all levels, and the full involvement in the management of the project of all operative staff implementing the project. These factors, coupled with the concept of setting clear, realistic, intermediate objectives, guaranteed the effective implementation of even radical changes in a seamless manner.
In addition to the above, another fundamental element was the correct division of the investment between three macro areas of intervention: Empowerment; Redesign of workflow processes, and IT infrastructure.
Strong emphasis was placed on the human resources directly involved with project implementation. Only 30% of the financial resources were dedicated to the development of IT tools. We wanted to test our theory that a disproportionate investment in IT with respect to that in human resources would translate in a high probability of failure by doing the opposite. We saw no point in having fantastic processes running on state of the art IT platforms being used by unmotivated operative staff and so fixed IT development at 30% of the total budget.
In order to coordinate all the actors involved in the project and to provide them with standardised technology, yet at the same time reducing drastically the investment required, a web-based platform capable of dealing with all the activities related to the adoption procedure was created. Attention was paid to creating a system able to manage general workflow, with a graphic interface that allows project managers the possibility to set up and modify workflows and their single tasks. This feature has been of extreme importance in that it has allowed the workflows to be improved a number of times since their first introduction, taking into account suggestions from the end-users. The integration of such suggestions has been a key factor in the transfer of project ownership.
The solution chosen is based around the requirement for investment protection and the need to make the platform as open as possible to other systems. For these reasons, the basic language for data management is XML. Following this, thanks to the introduction of web services (including external services), such a level of interoperability has been achieved that the project is considered to be at the forefront of Italian Public Administration.
Main results achieved:
- 30% reduction in production time for social and psychological reports;
- Requests from courts for further information reduced from 20% of cases to 0%;
- Elimination of paper-based processes;
- Possibility to personalize workflow and document formats built in;
- Supervisors may monitor in real time status of cases and intervene where necessary.
- Standardization of documents and systems for the transmission of confidential information, whilst respecting the difficulties faced by each single administration regarding investments in IT.
Obviously, having gained a great deal of knowledge and experience of the Italian context, we are currently seeking to transfer the project to other Italian regions where our approach will be to begin directly with the much wider field child protection of which adoptions represent only a relatively small element, thereby maximising the return on investment.
However, given the flexibility of our model and approach, we are also currently working towards the creation of a transnational project in the field of child protection. This initiative has the aim, not only of transferring this best practice to other nations, but also of adapting the best practice to new national contexts in order to be able to deal even more efficiently and effectively with new and emerging phenomena. Our present efforts here are concerned mainly with European nations, but we are also interested in developing our ideas in other parts of the world.
Lesson 1 â€“ Involvement and commitment of stakeholders from all levels from very beginning.
- Ensure complete involvement of all stakeholders at all levels right from the start to ease transfer of ownership;
- Select champions at all levels to ensure that all work groups have at least one person to carry the flag and aid success of all project actions;
- Act upon suggestions from all work groups as swiftly as possible;
- If a suggestion is not relevant, deal with it diplomatically and swiftly;
- Maintain positive tension high through the establishment of clear intermediate objectives within foreseeable future (usually 6-8 weeks).
Lesson 2 â€“ Application of lean IT solutions.
Dedicate all the resources necessary to the people who will eventually implement an eGovernment project rather than insisting on having the slickest of platforms. The people operating on a platform will be less inclined to worry about its graphic interface if they know exactly what it is they are really trying to achieve through its use. First impressions last, but they are based on our expectations. Make sure the users know what to expect before being given it.
Lesson 3 - Constant involvement and empowerment of operative staff.
Always believe in the people you are working with. Never forget that they will have varying levels of motivation, and be used to following orders from senior management with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Itâ€™s your job to ensure that they are motivated and enthusiastic.
Go to www.bip.rcoe.gov.uk/ for some great practical information from the UK National Project.