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But I Like Paper!



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It makes sense for social services agencies to keep client records on a computer.

I have a confession to make. Despite twenty years in the computer field, I still file my income taxes in good old paper form. When my tax software (which I use to help prepare my return) keeps suggesting that I file electronically, I keep clicking the button that says, basically, "Nope, I want to print out gobs of paper."

I like paper.

Paper is permanent (at least for my lifetime) and doesn't change on you. If I have a good filing system, I always know where it is. If the IRS comes knocking on my door some day, I'll just haul out those cartons of files and have everything I need.

You may like keeping paper records of your agency's clients for basically the same reasons. Besides, paper is easy to use. We've been handling paper since we were toddlers. We're "paper literate!" We've got that skill down pat.

There are a couple differences, though, between my tax returns and your agency's client records. Each year my tax records are relatively small, and don't take up much space. In even a small social services agency, client records over a year can build up to quit a file cabinet full (or several).

Secondly, once I've done my taxes, I don't have to get into that paper much. Next year I'll have to drag out last year's return for a little bit, but after that, I can pack them away in the salt mine of my basement and forget about them. With your agency's client records, though, you have to get into them again and again. When you provide social services to returning clients, you have to look up the files, get them out, sort through the sheets of paper, update them as appropriate, and put them back.

And what if you have multiple social service workers in contact with clients and their records? "Who's got the Sandra Miller file?" you walk around asking.

What if there is a fire or other catastrophe, and the paper documents get destroyed? You probably only have one set. Your agency would suddenly have very little "organizational memory."

One other thing: Have you ever had to count up your paper records to determine how many clients you had in a given period of time? Not just counting them, but tallying them by age, sex, marital status, and whatever else, not to mention measuring somehow the amount of service you provided. What a headache! (I've known more than one social service agency that, when faced with this task, used the "guestimate" method, with big wordy footnotes to obfuscate the matter. This does not impress funders.)

So, even if computers aren't your cup of tea, it probably makes sense to keep the client records of your agency on a computer or computer network.

  • By computerizing your agency's client records, you'll make them easy to find and retrieve.
  • Computerized client records usually keep data in a standard format, making it easier to find some particular piece of information within a client file.
  • Client records on a computer won't require you to keep getting more and more file cabinets in your agency. (Get a business to donate their old computers to you. One computer can hold many, many file cabinets' worth of data.)
  • You can "back up" the information on a computer to some other medium, such as a tape or disk. Keep rotating these back ups off site, so that you'll still have client records if a disaster happens to your agency's physical location.

Pick client records software that is easy to use. If you need it, have someone who is computer-savvy figure out how to use it, and then show you. Before you know it, you'll be retrieving and updating records almost instantly.

(FYI, Social Work Software has products for keeping agency client records on a computer.)

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