Unpacking Invisible Work Practices, Constraints, and Latent Power Relationships in Child Welfare through Casenote Analysis

by   Devansh Saxena, et al.

Caseworkers are trained to write detailed narratives about families in Child-Welfare (CW) which informs collaborative high-stakes decision-making. Unlike other administrative data, these narratives offer a more credible source of information with respect to workers' interactions with families as well as underscore the role of systemic factors in decision-making. SIGCHI researchers have emphasized the need to understand human discretion at the street-level to be able to design human-centered algorithms for the public sector. In this study, we conducted computational text analysis of casenotes at a child-welfare agency in the midwestern United States and highlight patterns of invisible street-level discretionary work and latent power structures that have direct implications for algorithm design. Casenotes offer a unique lens for policymakers and CW leadership towards understanding the experiences of on-the-ground caseworkers. As a result of this study, we highlight how street-level discretionary work needs to be supported by sociotechnical systems developed through worker-centered design. This study offers the first computational inspection of casenotes and introduces them to the SIGCHI community as a critical data source for studying complex sociotechnical systems.


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