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Going from 2,400 devices to 1 mobile human services agency

The Massachusetts Department of Children and Families offers insight into developing your mobile human services workforce.


Every day, human services workers—including the child welfare workforce—connect with people during visits, in the car, at court and from home. When your office is everywhere and face-to-face connections mean everything, mobile devices are more than cool gadgets; they are lifelines for delivering human services outcomes.

But going mobile in human services means more than distributing devices to staff in the field. Find out what it takes to become a mobile human services agency.

This article—exploring Massachusetts Department of Children and Families’ (DCF) continuing mobile workforce journey—was published in the August 2015 issue of Policy & Practice.


DCF’s mobile journey began after an internal inquiry to improve the agency’s engagement with children and families.

The Child Welfare League of America recommended mobile devices to improve compliance and communication, suggesting that social workers use them to enter real-time data into iFamilyNet, the state’s Web-enabled SACWIS system.

After rapidly deploying iPads to field staff, DCF teamed with Accenture to analyze the initial rollout and create a blueprint for future implementation.

Key Findings

There are five lessons for any human services agency focused on developing or strengthening its mobile workforce:

  1. Look beyond the device—focus on the mission. Agencies must develop mobile workforce programs with a perspective on how mobile can drive the mission forward, tying mobile metrics to case practice metrics.

  2. Bring the office to the field—break down the walls. Now that the human services workforce has mobile devices to interact, communicate, report and serve, traditional in-office mandates can be too limiting.

  3. Think infrastructure—not just tools. As human services agencies make mobile the main technology platform for the workforce, hardware and software investments must reflect this fact.

  4. Look beyond your agency—don’t go it alone. Departments across all levels of government are focused on mobility. This creates an opportunity to look outside individual agency boundaries for support.

  5. Get input from the field—early and often. The human services workforce knows best when it comes to mobile devices. As such, agencies should start with the field—what do social workers need?


From smartphones to tablets, mobile technology is part of the fabric of life. As such, developing mobile device strategies for citizen service and workforce productivity is a human services priority—and a broader public sector priority too.

Like mobile technology itself, DCF is on the move. The agency has learned that the destination is not the device itself. Because empowering a human services mobile workforce, like empowering families, entails being flexible, responsive and open to change.

“Because empowering a human services mobile workforce, like empowering families, entails being flexible, responsive and open to change.”


Amy Kershaw

Amy Kershaw is the Assistant Commissioner for Policy and Practice at the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families.

Matthew Burnham

Matthew Burnham is a Public Service Strategy Executive at Accenture.

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