Located in one of California’s most diverse counties, Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) serves nearly 50,000 students across 80 elementary, middle, and high schools, as well as dozens of district-authorized charter schools.
OUSD’s purpose is to serve as a “full-service community district” by focusing on high academic achievement among its students and by providing access to services that help the whole child and eliminate inequity. One such service within OUSD is its Newcomer Wellness Initiative (NWI), which has been an integral part of orienting new students to the area since 2017.
Approximately 6% of OUSD K-12 students are newcomers, which equates to approximately 3,000 individuals. A newcomer is defined as someone who was born outside of the United States with a home language other than English and who has been living in the U.S. for three years or less.
Most of OUSD’s newcomers are refugees, asylees, and/or unaccompanied minors, and many of whom are fleeing violence, human trafficking, or persecution in their home country. While these children bring immense linguistic and cultural assets to Oakland County’s schools, along with exemplary resilience and resourcefulness, they also require intensive and specialized services to meet their academic, socio-emotional, and mental health needs.
NWI utilizes bilingual clinical social workers and school counselors to provide non-academic support to newcomers at designated newcomer sites at middle and high schools. The program historically has focused on reaching middle and high school students because of the understanding that the older a person is when they arrive in a new country, the less time they have to learn the language, acculturate, and catch up academically. About 65% of OUSD newcomers are middle and high schoolers.
Not only does NWI support the student, but assistance is also extended to their families and caregivers. The NWI team uses a multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) framework to guide their interventions to address all levels of student needs within the school setting. Tier one focuses on universal practices that improve the overall school culture and climate, such as cultural celebrations, lunchtime events, restorative justice circles, and workshops. Tier two offers group support targeted at addressing specific needs and themes arising in the newcomer population, including grief and loss, acculturation, empowerment, and leadership. The third tier is focused on addressing urgent individual needs, including mental health services, intensive clinical case management, and targeted attendance interventions, which may include home visits and family support.
The 2022-2023 school year is OUSD’s sixth year serving students through the initiative. Over time, NWI has evolved from manual reporting and tracking to using Social Solutions’ sophisticated case management system with refined data and analytics capabilities.
When the NWI team first started out, they utilized spreadsheets and shareable document software, mainly Google Suite, to track everything. As the program grew, spreadsheets and Google Suite led to issues like coding discrepancies between team members, ineffective version tracking, and data loss during personnel changes.
Being able to work with and produce unified and consistent data was important to the purpose of NWI for two main reasons.
First, the caseload for each NWI social worker is exceptional. Each clinical social worker on staff with NWI handles between 60-150 students. This means that clinical case workers’ time and resources are extremely valuable, and glitches or inaccuracies in data only add to their already- overloaded plate.
Second, the data the initiative collects on medical, educational, and familial history needs to be visible to all in one location so when kids transfer to different schools, their service history and interventions are visible to staff at the new site. Before using Social Solutions’ case management software, NWI used paper forms to collect student and family history, which brought challenges in maintaining confidentiality.
Reporting was also an area that was in desperate need of proficiency. Before the support of our case management software, NWI’s team spent hours creating a simple, single-use report, which was extremely limited in the quality and quantity of information it presented. For example, if the staff wanted to draw comparisons between two different high schools, they manually exported the data from each school separately in order to create a comparison report.
The staff lacked the ability to view data from every school campus across the district and easily manipulate the data across various categories and interest points. Reporting on the team was simple and limited.
Compliance was another issue NWI grappled with in its early years. Due to the nature of its work with mental health information, special care is taken to not jeopardize the professional licensing of the Clinical Social Workers and their supervisors. Clinical Social Workers needed to handle note-taking and file permissions with extreme care. Since social workers were relying on software like Google Documents to support most of their work, notes weren’t easily stored and shared, which added another level of complexity when it came to extrapolating data for use in reporting.
NWI recently began working with Social Solutions’ best-in-class case management software to introduce a more robust and sophisticated method of tracking newcomers in one centralized place. The dynamic case management program works side-by-side with OUSD’s centralized student portal software which collects general information from each student—such as attendance, educational history, demographics, and family contacts—during enrollment and throughout the year. That information feeds into NWI’s database, which is then used to supplement casework at the initiative.
Our case management platform allows the team at NWI to collect, track, and manage thousands of student profiles in one place. The team can organize information, monitor services, and keep forms structured in an efficient manner. This unified structure helps NWI identify new students during the enrollment process, organize its case files, track successes such as touchpoints and connections, stay compliant with regional and federal mandates, generate compelling reports, and so much more.
NWI utilizes the Bulletin feature in its case management software, which allows them to track student responses on intake forms— which monitors students’ basic needs, educational history, and stressors—and filter those responses as needed. For example, clinical social workers can view intake responses on the medical access history collected on a certain date to pinpoint how many students may not have Medi-Cal but are requesting services for dental and vision care. That then allows the clinical social workers to help schedule for school-based clinic care and organize release and consent forms for students that are in need.
Legal support is also a pressing issue for many of the newcomers who NWI serves. The school district uses its case management platform to connect its participants with partner organizations that specialize in immigrant law. A few years ago, NWI formed
a partnership with the Immigrant Family Defense Fund, which provides NWI with an attorney to help with initial consultations. The attorney uses the case management software to identify unaccompanied immigrant youth before she uses Apricot to refer them to immigration organizations or private lawyers in the area. She can also input legal immigration data directly into the case management software so that the Clinical Social Workers can view individuals’ legal journey.
NWI is an exceptional example of how our case management software can be used to track success using easy-to-generate reporting. These reports have helped NWI identify needs and gaps early and efficiently. This results in NWI being able to better monitor both student touchpoints and the fulfillment of student needs. By using case management software to track touchpoints, NWI can work with school administrators in a better and more informed manner. For example, if a team member from NWI looks at a student profile and recognizes a missing intake form, the team member can use that information to follow up with their teacher or school counselor to make sure the student gets access to help if they need it. Noriega adds that schools have even asked her team to generate reports directly within the case management program of the students that have not had touchpoints, which helps the school identify gaps.
Introducing case management software has also made it easier for NWI to create an all-in-one electronic case folder that helps them track services a student receives, from their mental health progress to their involvement in various support programs. The Clinical Social Workers, for example, are no longer entering case notes in one Google sheet and their mental health notes in another sheet. NWI’s team has been able to put everything in one place so that they can move fluidly from one folder to the other all in one system that’s equipped with permissions rules and robust notes that can be easily shared and categorized by users.
This more intuitive case management system is helping NWI to work towards achieving its goal of connecting more students to more support programs, which Noriega says is one of the biggest indicators of progress for the team thus far.
With the reporting capabilities of the case management software, the NWI team is now able to paint a detailed picture to funders and partners in a matter of hours, rather than days. This has helped the team at NWI sustain funding from OUSD year over year and maximize the dollars that it receives from the school district.
Because NWI hires clinical social workers to deal with mental health information, the Clinical Social Workers are regulated by the California Board of Behavioral Science (BBS) and must adhere to strict data privacy laws. In the past, this was challenging and created many roadblocks for its Clinical Social Workers. Now, by utilizing the case management software, they can keep everything in the same place and even share case files with authorized teachers, family members, and other support programs, while keeping privileged, confidential clinical work files separate when needed.
Tracking and reporting on NWI’s impact with OUSD’s newcomers became easier for Noriega and her team after the introduction of Social Solutions’s best-in-class case management software. The NWI team was able to release several compelling, tangible results from the 2021-2022 school year. Take a look at the team’s impact.
NWI recorded 4,023 student and family touchpoints, which included:
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