Washington meets information demand

The state of Washington's Department of Information Services (DIS) has provided

government agencies with video and multimedia capabilities since 1992, and

has been offering Webcasting as one of its regular services since July 2001.

The state's Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) has found

the Webcasts particularly useful for its foster parenting program, in which

it has to provide regular workshops on such things as fetal alcohol syndrome,

brain development and behavioral change.

"We originally generated products for broadcast by satellite," said

Carolyn Jones, DSHS program manager. "But that cost us $1,200 for each broadcast

to each remote location, and the foster parents had to be able to travel

to a studio to see it."

Webcasting has changed to way the department does things. In addition

to the satellite broadcasts, DSHS now produces workshops designed for streaming

over the Web. Foster parents use computers to participate in the workshops

in real time, using e-mail to interact with the instructor.

But one of the biggest attractions, according to Jones, has been the

on-demand service enabled by archiving the workshops. Foster parents now

can view the workshops when their time permits and — in a scenario that

all parents would gratefully acknowledge — one parent in a household can

watch the workshop while the other cares for the children.

"If it weren't for the Webcasts, we would have to beef up our land-based

training," Jones said. "But foster parents would still have to travel to

those."

The DSHS Webcast program has generated even more interest than the department

thought it would. The DSHS Web site has been getting about 150 hits a month

from people who have viewed the Webcasts and say they want to become foster

parents, Jones said, and many of those have come from out of state. People

from as far away as Florida have asked for course certificates from the

DSHS to show they have actually watched the workshops.

And in what might be the ultimate compliment, people in New Zealand

who viewed the Webcasts have asked DSHS to put on a workshop about preventing

false allegations by children against foster parents.

"There's been so much interest that we are actually thinking of ways

we might be able to charge something for this [out-of-state] service," said

Jones.

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be

reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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