The FAMCare Blog

Fostering discussions on industry news, effective data management, improved workflow, morale and funding.

Thinking Outside the Case

JULY 30, 2014

JULY 30, 2014

"Thinking outside the box" has become a cliché', but it is often still a good idea. Both non-profit and governmental agencies, large and small, are desperately looking for new techniques to relieve the enormous backlogs and long wait-times that burden both caseworkers and clients. Doing things the old way "because that is how we have always done it" is no longer accepted wisdom. One state agency has begun thinking outside the case.

TRADITIONAL THINKING: Imagine an office with 40 caseworkers, all previously trained to interview a client, determine eligibility, and update benefits.

OUTSIDE THE CASE: Now imagine that the group of caseworkers becomes four teams of 10, each specializing in a stage of the process: initial applications - incomplete applications - renewals - documented life changes that could affect benefits.


  • Because the caseworkers specialized in one task, they worked much faster.
  • If an individual case worker was absent on a given day, anyone could step in and continue in their place. Work did not stop because no one knew anything about a case.
  • The intake receptionist asked clients how they might be helped, not who they wanted to see. Any available case worker could deal with any client since all cases were now housed in the agency data base not in an individual caseworker's files. No one was kept waiting for service, and no one fell through the crack because of long wait times.
  • This re-engineering of casework led to a much more accurate picture of how the office was doing.

TECHNOLOGY'S ROLE: Continuing to think outside the case, the agency realized the role technology could play in favor of their new task-based model.

  1. They added new customer service call centers.
  2. They upgraded to document imaging software.
  3. They created a web portal that allowed people to submit their applications online.

BACK IN THE BOX: This task based approach to casework flow is not entirely new. So, if it has worked well in the agencies that have tried it, why doesn't everyone give it a try? Many agencies don't because they still think that the task based approach causes both clients and caseworkers to lose the personal touch they believe is essential to satisfactory outcomes.

BACK OUT OF THE BOX: "That would certainly be true," one caseworker at the agency admitted, "if we were working with a reasonable case load. However, we are not. With the old 'one-on-one' method, I sometimes kept my clients waiting weeks to see me and often couldn't give them the service they required and deserved. Now, specializing in one stage of the process, I feel better about every client who comes into the agency. I know they will all be taken care of within a reasonable amount of time, and their needs will be met. It is a great relief to me, I can tell you that."