“It could save a life.” Native Child and Family Services of Toronto knows the value of having reliable, centralized data at your fingertips

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Native Child and Family Services of Toronto (NCFST) is an agency that helps Aboriginal children and families deal with some very serious issues, such as those caused by poverty, addictions, family violence, mental health problems, homelessness, abuse, neglect, and other unsafe living conditions. Its programs and services offer crucial relief and support in the form of guidance, counseling, treatment, programs, advocacy, case management, and service plans.

Founded in 1986 by concerned members of Toronto’s Native community, NCFST is today one of the largest family service agencies in the province, with a current staff of approximately 200, an annual budget of close to $30M, a range of over 40 distinct programs provided in 8 separate locations, and a list of some 20 different funders that includes the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services, the City of Toronto, Health Canada, and the Ontario Aboriginal Healing and Wellness Strategy.

Norman Clarke, NCFST’s Manager of Facilities and Technology, summarized the range of their work like this: “We have a whole basket of programs. We do child welfare work, support services, and case management around addictions and mental health, as well as work related to homelessness and youth at risk of homelessness. We have transition houses, day cares, and Head Start programs. We do some work with the Ministry of Health and our local LHIN, and mental health work with women (and men) who have been victims of domestic violence. So we deal with the VAW (Violence Against Women) program, and we also deal with the Ministry of the Attorney General’s PAR (Partner Assault Response) program.”


That’s a lot of activity, and many people, programs, funders, and data to keep track of. Until 2015, they were managing their activities and tracking client data in a variety of disconnected ways, not all of which were even automated. As Mr. Clarke described it, “We used a combination of things. We had a case management program built specifically for child welfare that we used for a lot of things, and we had other software to track our groups and group activity. We also had different Excel spreadsheets to track clients and some of the data required by the ministries who fund us. And, we also had a lot of paper files.”

When they learned that their child welfare software was soon going to be replaced, they decided that it was time to look for a new and more comprehensive system. “We had to find another application that we could move all of our support services to,” said Mr. Clarke. “We needed a program that would suit our unique needs. We required support in an ongoing manner, and ideally that would also allow us to get rid of all these different sources of software and paper that we were using to track our client activity and our cases.”


The software that they chose after reviewing all of their options was CaseWORKS, the case management system developed by Coyote Software Corporation. According to Mr. Clarke, what attracted them initially was CaseWORKS reporting capability, as well as the program’s maturity, flexibility, and suitability for their busy service environment. “It seemed to be more of a mature product than the other software that we looked at. It also had a lot of reports built in that we need – standard reports that our funders and in particular our Ministries ask for, that we had been doing by Excel spreadsheets – already developed in CaseWORKS. The other competitors’ systems didn’t have all those other reports built in.

“Also, the flexibility it offered was another driving factor in our decision to go with CaseWORKS. We could bring in all of our programs that we deliver and be supported, because Coyote had already built in programs like Violence Against Women, Partner Assault Response Program, Children’s Mental Health, as well as the OCAN reports and assessments that we were using. All of those came off the shelf already, so that was one of the big things that helped us.

“Plus, we’re now able to see all our files, all of the things that are important in case management, in one place. And with regards to security and privacy, it’s all there too. CaseWORKS definitely wasn’t the lowest cost option that we looked at, but after reviewing all of the alternatives, we saw that the value was there.”


NCFST implemented their new CaseWORKS system at all of their locations early in 2015, and Mr. Clarke said that it immediately gave them new and easier access to all of their consolidated data. “I think one of the big benefits is having all of the client data in one single database. Before, we had information across a number of different systems and Excel files and paper files, so it was a big benefit to be able to bring it all into one database.

“And part of that is also that we’ve eliminated paper files for all these programs. Basically, we’ve gone paperless for the services part of our agency.”

He also pointed to workflow improvements that they’ve experienced. “CaseWORKS helps our supervisors and managers think more about how we deliver services, and what are the important things that should be tracked and recorded. It’s provided some benefit to our supervisors to be able to formalize some aspects of the workflow, to have more of a structure to how things are done, and to the sequence of doing things.”

“It also streamlined a number of forms that we use, so there are efficiencies there. With CaseWORKS we’re able to make sure that the data being entered is more complete, which is what we need to be able to report accurately to our various funders and Ministries.”

Another advantage that Mr. Clarke sees in CaseWORKS is the ease with which they could adapt it to accommodate their unique programs. “There’s enough flexibility in it, being able to change different variables in the software, so you can customize it for most programs. It fit our model of service delivery quite easily, because it’s flexible enough to accommodate all manner of programs and services. We’ve been able to use it for over 40 programs so far. It also lets us create our own custom reports.”

In the opinion of Jeff D’Hondt, NCFST’s Manager of Clinical Services, the key advantage in having a system like CaseWORKS is that it allows them to harness the power of data, both to help them get their hands on crucial information in a hurry, and also to inform their decision-making when planning how to improve and optimize their services. “There is a certain amount of systemic change and culture change that comes with new software, but it’s necessary. We live in an information age. And we need to be able to get a lot of accurate information immediately. It could save a life sometimes.

“For example, if there’s a suicide warning for someone, we need to know it. If there’s a medication clash for someone, we need to know it. If someone’s not safe around another client, we need to know it. And we need to be able to find it instantly. Our old system did not allow that. Before, the only way that people in the office could share that kind of information was if they talked to each other. But sometimes people will be in session, or they’ll be sick, or their phone will be turned off. For whatever reason, you can’t always count on that face-to-face contact. So we needed a software system that can get that kind of information to us instantly. We really needed that ability to point, click, bang, ‘Oh right, there’s a warning.’ Coyote has that in the system, they have alerts.”

“Where it’s been a huge help is that we have eight different locations in the city, and it’s not easy to reach people by phone sometimes, so we needed an alert system that anyone in our agency can access at any time. It’s been extremely helpful. There have been a couple of times when we were about to make a mistake, and we caught the alert in time and it stopped us from making a bad choice.”

“It’s a way to sort information. It’s a storytelling mechanism, essentially. We need to tell short stories, very short stories. ‘So and so is a suicide risk’ is a story, and we need to be able to find it accurately and efficiently to save a life. That’s what it boils down to.”

And beyond having that crucial information at their fingertips, Mr. D’Hondt pointed to other benefits of centralized and reliable data: the time-savings gained from quicker data collection and the ability to do data integrity checks.

“Where we were struggling before was that whenever we did an assessment, it would be a paper file, and all the information gets kind of lost in the system. But now, all assessment information is collected in one spot and we know where to find it in a hurry. That speeds up not only our data collection, but also our data integrity checks. Because before, we had the data but we had no easy way of checking it without manually going through it all and phoning people and verifying it. Now it’s just all there, and we can easily check it. That’s where a lot of our time has been saved.”

Mr. D’Hondt said that with more reliable data at hand, they can now do better program planning as well. “As you can guess, both case workers and supervisors will have very strong ideas of how they want their programs to progress. Now, we’re able to go back and check our assumptions. For example, you might have 5 or 6 clients who are extremely upset and need a certain intervention because the situation is so inflamed. You might decide that we need a program just because those events are still stuck in your head. You have a strong memory of those 5 or 6 people who benefited from a certain experience, but you forget that there are 50 others who didn’t.

“But with proper data, we’re now better able to check our assumptions successfully. It gives us more of a perspective. Having that data, we can plan or modify a program, or revise our strategies, in ways that are most appropriate to the actual needs of our clients. It gives us a clear sense of what we’re actually doing as opposed to what we think we’re doing.”

CaseWORKS has also given NCFST some significant new reporting capabilities, allowing them to give quick and insightful summaries of their activities both to their own staff and to their funders and partners. “From a managerial perspective, I’m finding it much easier to track what my staff is doing,” he said. “I know when they’re meeting with their client, and what they’re doing specifically at that meeting. It’s broken down for me in the system. I’m also better able to get at some demographic trends, and pulling some of those reports is super helpful. We get all kinds of calls from funders, from potential partners, and from our own staff looking for that kind of demographic information, so that’s really useful.”

The automated reporting features of CaseWORKS have brought significant time-savings to the agency as well. “Reporting used to be a highly manual process for us, so it took a lot longer. For example, if we’re trying to do an innovative program, we need to be able to provide statistical information to justify the program to our partners or funders. Before, when we needed a report like that, it would take us 3 or 4 days to gather all of the information. Now, it’s just an hour or two.”

The fact that CaseWORKS is a web-based system has also been a benefit to NCFST, in Mr D’Hondt’s view. “We have different locations, and our workers also do home visits, so we’re in the community quite a bit. Our model of care is to meet clients wherever they feel safest, which could be at our facility, but it will sometimes be a home or a car or a coffee shop or another location. They’re not always at their desk with a computer. So it’s nice that they have a system where all they need is an Internet connection and they can check in and get information whenever they need it. The web-based feature is a huge selling point for that reason, because it’s fast, it’s efficient, and it’s accurate. That’s what we need.”

They also needed their new system to adhere to proper privacy and confidentiality standards. “We’re pursuing accreditation for our agency, so we need to have data privacy and confidentiality locked down so there’s no guesswork about it. We also recently became a Health Service Provider, for which we needed to upgrade our system quite a bit, so the fact that CaseWORKS already had that in place for us was excellent. A Health Service Provider designation comes with some legal obligations, including the need to adhere to PHIPA [Ontario’s Personal Health Information Protection Act]. You have to be able to demonstrate to an audit process that you adhere to it, and the Coyote system meets all of those standards.”

Mr. Clarke concluded his assessment of their new system with praise for the company that made and implemented it, Coyote Software. “During the implementation and data migration process, I was impressed with their staff, their professionalism, and their ability to get the job done. I would recommend them. And they seem to have staying power, which was one of the other considerations that we had. They’re a large enough company that they’re not going to disappear tomorrow; they’ll be around for a while. Also, they understand health care. Not only health care, but also all of the various Ministries that we deal with. They understand all that.”

For more information:
Andrew Kirkham, Director of Business Development, Coyote Software Corp
Telephone: 905-639-8533 x301
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Native Child and Family Services of Toronto
Coyote CaseWORKS