By Nike Blue, Vice President of Quality Management, Houston Area Women’s Center
Social workers continue to be frontline changemakers—helping those most in need and delivering much-needed services to drive transformational change. Yet, demand for services continues to outpace the capacity of these dedicated workers. Many social workers spend excessive time managing data and addressing communications, compliance and reporting challenges due to antiquated data management systems. Inefficient systems create more work for everyone involved and can cause grant compliance concerns, which can result in securing less funding to support needed services for individuals and families.
The need for violence survivor services, for example, is just one sector that has seen increased demand, particularly during the pandemic. In the U.S. alone, 1 in 3 women is experiencing some form of physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. And, on average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner, which equates to more than 10 million women and men each year.
My name is Nike Blue, and I oversee a staff of five full-time team members at the Houston Area Women’s Center (HAWC). I’ve dedicated the last 20 years to driving social good and now serve as Vice President of Quality Management at HAWC, where I oversee compliance and quality assurance. HAWC’s mission is to end violence for all. Each survivor’s story is unique, as are their needs. HAWC offers wraparound case management and advocacy services designed to interrupt the cycle of violence and increase survivors’ safety and self-sufficiency. Though my team and I are not in client-facing roles, we value our quality management and program compliance work. It is vital to every HAWC team member to hold ourselves to a high standard when serving our clients. They deserve our very best.
For 44 years, HAWC has served the needs of survivors who experience violence in the greater Houston area. Our services encompass three core program disciplines:
When I joined HAWC, we had 20 government-related grants at the state, local and federal levels. We managed grants and tracked service information using a 15-year-old SQL server database. This database was built by a former in-house HAWC team member. The institutional knowledge of the database was no longer accessible. The current team lacked knowledge of the code structure of the database, which resulted in a system that was failing and unable to support our organizational needs.
I was responsible for management procurement for our data systems, and I knew that we needed to become more efficient, effective and accurate in all areas. We were spending too many hours managing reports and connecting the dots as to which grant supported which program for which client. We knew we needed to invest in a technology solution that would not only automate our client process but also give us accurate reporting and better line of sight across all our programs so we could better serve our clients. Additionally, we needed to leverage technology that allowed our clients to connect with us through a web-based browser and by phone while protecting them from their abuser and ensuring all of their information is securely deleted.
We selected Social Solutions’ Apricot because of its data collaboration capabilities and its pre-built VOCA (our main federal funder) and HUD reporting capabilities. It was an easy learning curve for my team since it was cloud based and had simple access to view electronic folders. We have multiple grants through other funders, but we were able to create funder reports quickly with Apricot.
HAWC implemented Apricot in February 2020, right as COVID-19 hit, and it was just in the nick of time. Within a year of getting Apricot, the development department brought in roughly 20 new grants, which doubled the number of grants the organization was managing. The additional grants allowed HAWC to expand the housing services we offered, which offered real-time safety from the abuse that was escalating in many homes due to the additional strains the pandemic put on families. With Social Solutions’ Connect, we were able to get our clients signed up for services remotely, thus removing some of the barriers the pandemic imposed on survivors. Clients were able to sign up for homeless prevention services, access individual or group counseling, and meet with legal counsel and advocates while social distancing and observing the CDC’s recommendations.
The Apricot web portal ensures the highest level of safety and anonymity for the survivor. Apricot has made it exponentially easier for our team to document and share information internally and with funders—eliminating the manual paper process. In addition, the transition was painless for our team. Our staff work with clients in crisis and do not have the time to navigate a complicated data management system. Apricot is designed to be intuitive, which was one of the key reasons for selecting the solution. While on the phone with a violence survivor, team members can create a client profile, provide referrals, and connect clients to other shelters and resources in real time, thereby increasing our efficiency to serve our clients more effectively.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020, our agency has grown from 110 to 180 team members. Apricot played a huge role in supporting this growth. When shutdowns and public health concerns crippled other organizations, HAWC was able to gain momentum. HAWC recently committed to an expansion project that will allow us to better meet the need we are seeing across the state of Texas and beyond. Previously, we could adequately serve only 50 percent of the people calling our hotline needing shelter. The demand for services outweighed our capacity exponentially. Fortunately, leveraging technology has allowed us to offer life-changing services to more women and children. We’re driving true social good impact with the help of Social Solutions.
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