Children in Families (CIF) is a local, Christian NGO based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, that provides ongoing extended-family and foster care to Cambodian kids. It’s also where Chris Ellinger, an Interserve Cambodia Partner, is based day-to-day. Chris works with CIF as Social Work Technical Adviser, assessing the organisation’s policy and practice, reinforcing strengths, and helping to fill gaps.
One of the areas where CIF needed assistance was improving its case management processes and case noting. With that in mind, Chris and other CIF management staff applied for a grant from USAID (the US Government’s International Aid arm) to develop a new Case Management System. Unofficially known as OSCaR (Open Source Case-management and Record-keeping) the system was developed in partnership with a local Cambodian software development company. Chris’ initial concept for OSCaR was simple but ambitious: create a system that would facilitate strong case management and case-noting, reinforce those processes for CIF staff, and store client information naturally in an easy-to-use database for program revision and reporting. All this was to be done in English and Khmer.
The bulk of the development took place between January and May of 2016 – keeping Chris busy running back and forth between the CIF office and the developers – and by June, the entirety of CIF’s staff had been inducted in its use. The system is based around a robust, whole-of-life assessment tool (the Child Status Index) and constantly pushes staff to assess the client’s situation, plan appropriate interventions, work through what needs to be done, then review, and begin the cycle again. Cambodia’s educational system was severely damaged by the Pol Pot regime in the 1970s, and is still recovering, so a system that self-reinforces solid practice is immensely beneficial.
The OSCaR system was so beneficial that when CIF began to show the system to other NGOs in Phnom Penh, there was a high level of interest in how it could be made available for others to use. Since the software was an open source project, there are no licensing fees for others who want to pick it up. However, there remained the obstacle of ongoing development costs. The solution came in the second half of 2016, when Save the Children began coordinating the USAID-funded Family Care First Cambodia initiative. FCFC is a collective-impact based approach to changing the social landscape in Cambodia. It aims to move Cambodia away from the heavy use of orphanages in caring for abandoned and vulnerable children, and toward a model of family-based care. For CIF, it was a natural fit, and when staff from Save the Children saw the OSCaR system, there was a strong sense that this was something worth building further. CIF was awarded a grant to continue development of the software, to consult with and train other organisations in the use of OSCaR, and to begin developing Cambodia’s first ever child wellbeing database and referral system. This process began in November of 2016, and has been accelerating since.
The impact of the program can already be seen. The first change was that OSCaR is now known as the Case Management System (the CMS), but it will always be OSCaR somewhere in the hearts of the people who started the process! Software development has ramped up; new features are added, and structural improvements made, week-by-week. At the time of writing, there are four organisations using the database, with a waiting list of nine more. Chris and other CIF staff have been meeting with government officials to plan further rollouts. As a result, CMS is set to become the first ever digital database used by government social workers across the country.
On the face of it, software development can seem like a stodgy business, and it wasn’t what Chris had in mind when he and his family left Adelaide in March of 2014. But this project has already had an impact on Cambodian society, and the kids CIF follows up every day. It continues to spread across the country, and is one way that Interserve has been involved in positive change, driven by the love of Jesus for the world’s poor and marginalised.
Chris Ellinger is an Interserve Partner who has been serving in Cambodia with his family since 2014.