The Louisiana Department of Child and Family Services is a multi-functional public agency that not only works to keep children safe, but also provides adoption, disability, and self-sufficiency services for individuals and families. Because of its many roles involving vulnerable communities, the department is also a lead agency for emergency preparedness, response, and recovery.
In August 2016, a severe weather event in Louisiana resulted in twenty-one parishes being declared disaster areas by FEMA due to severe flooding. Because the floods extended to areas that were not accustomed to severe weather, many communities were unprepared for the event and tens of thousands of people had to be rescued and sheltered.
One of the biggest concerns for team leaders at the Department of Child and Family Services was locating and ensuring the safety of children in foster care. The agency did not have an efficient way to reach foster families in times of emergency, and so adopted the Rave platform in order to take advantage of its SMS messaging capabilities and reach foster families immediately.
Over time, multiple uses were found for the Rave platform. For example, the contact details of emergency support teams were added to the database so that, in the event of an emergency, area managers could contact teams in the shortest possible time. Ultimately all the agency’s 3,500 employees were added to the database to improve internal and external communications.
DCFS Runs Successful SNAP Pilot
One of the many programs managed by Louisiana DCFS is the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). A commonly-identified issue within the program is that, although individuals qualify for SNAP benefits, they don’t always receive the benefits they are entitled to because an administrative issue – i.e., they have forgotten to submit the right paperwork in time.
In early 2020, the agency ran a successful pilot using the Rave platform to communicate with SNAP recipients by SMS text. The pilot resulted in more people receiving the correct entitlement and fewer people dropping out of the program because of better communication and engagement. The Rave platform was subsequently adopted for communicating with all SNAP recipients.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic started, and the agency was swamped with applications for SNAP benefits due to so many people losing their jobs. Fortunately, the scalability of the Rave platform enabled the agency’s communications team to keep applicants informed of frequently changing criteria for SNAP benefits, unemployment benefits, and Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfers.
Countering Misinformation on Social Media
One of the most beneficial uses of the Rave platform during the first wave of the COVID pandemic was to counter misinformation on social media relating to benefits and the payment of benefits. As often happens when people are anxious, the misinformation quickly spread, and many applicants contacted the agency to ask why other people were receiving more benefit than they were.
To address the misinformation, Louisiana DCFS sent a mass SMS text message to all 400,000 SNAP recipients explaining that they could find accurate information on the agency’s website. Further text and voice messages were sent to people who had unsuccessfully applied for SNAP benefits to let them know about the criteria for applying for unemployment and P-EBT benefits.
The Rave platform was also used to push messages to staff working remotely. Team leaders were able to poll employees – some of whom were still displaced following an above-average hurricane season – about their health, access to water, and connectively to agency systems. Most recently, the platform has been used to push messages about employee vaccinations.
The Benefits of the Rave Platform for Louisiana DCFS
In less than five years, the uses of Rave platform have exceeded everybody’s expectations at Louisiana DCFS. What started off as a solution for periodically connecting with foster families has evolved into a critical communications platform that is used daily – both internally and externally. Employees have become familiar with sending and receiving text alerts; and, whenever possible, rather than send an email, team leaders will “send a Rave”.
According to Terri Ricks – the Deputy Secretary of Louisiana DCFS – the Rave platform has helped moved agency communications forward fifteen years. The agency now enjoys a much higher engagement rate with the community – visits to the Louisiana DCFS website have increased 250% year-on-year – but, more importantly it enables the agency to meet the needs of vulnerable individuals more efficiently and the reduce the amount of time they are in a vulnerable position.