Mar 22 2019

How Tech Should Be (and is) Changing Child Welfare

By Callie Langford

While SXSW has wrapped up for 2019, we’re continuing our look at innovation in the child welfare system and particularly how technology can play a role in improving outcomes for children in foster care.

Technology changes our lives a little bit more each and every day. We find more efficiencies through tools, apps and automation. We connect and network in new ways with wider circles of people. We quickly hear about the latest news, gossip, meme, hot TV show, etc.

These rapid advancements may not be coming as quickly as we’d like when it comes to improving the child welfare system, but they are out there and being developed. Here are some of the innovative ideas in the works to help change the lives of youth in the foster care system.

Dropping a Pin for Safety

Teens at Goddard High School in Kansas learned about children who’ve been abused in their foster homes but didn’t have cell phones or reliable internet to reach out for help. As part of their Samsung Solve for Tomorrow project, they decided to create a “safe and simple way for foster children to contact the police or their case manager in case of an emergency.” This up-and-coming technology was developed by youth for youth, and uses GPS tools and a messaging platform to allow someone to send a pre-programmed text message with current location map to an assigned phone number (perhaps that of a youth’s caseworker). These innovative teenagers have worked with local child welfare experts to guide their project development, and their next steps are developing the app for a caseworker to monitor, and shrinking the technology to be more portable for a youth in foster care to keep with them.

Online Dating Meets Adoption

We all know how prevalent online dating tools and apps have become in the world of relationships, and just how detailed these matching systems can be. Family-Match is working to bring those online dating system algorithms to adoption from foster care. Currently many search systems for adoption focus on an adoptive family setting a range of criteria and excluding all children outside of that range. Some systems even have photos of children posted in a way that feels a bit like shopping for a child. Family-Match allows for more nuance in the search and looks at compatibility factors. It searches both ways, matching the profiles of children and families to each other. It encourages families to consider someone outside of their initial criteria if a child might be a good match for them in other ways, and it widens the geographical search for families to bring in more options. The system also tracks outcome data with a plan to see how well it’s doing with its matches. Currently active in Florida and Virginia, the system has matched at least 91 children since it rolled out last summer, with 6 finalized adoptions. If you’re a Wall Street Journal subscriber, you can check out the most recent updates on Family-Match, and we’ll be staying turned to see what kind of success and growth it has in the future.

There’s an app for that

Our Teen Advocacy and Permanency Program has a strong focus on ensuring youth at risk of aging out of foster care have at least 3 healthy adult connections before they leave the system between the ages of 18-21. Guess what… there’s an app to support those healthy connections! Think of Us was built by a former foster youth to help other youth develop key relationships with the unpaid adults in their lives (and not just the paid professionals whose relationship changes once kids leave the system). It allows youth to have a team surrounding them with the online support of a “personal advisory board” who are holding them accountable. One youth who found success with the app said that, “This is the first time I have people checking in on me, checking in on my budget, checking in on did I actually submit those resumes to the number of places we agreed on today.”

Hackathon for Foster Care

The innovation continues with creative events that focus on changing the foster care system itself and developing even more innovative ideas to improve outcomes for kids. A hackathon is an event in which a group of people come together to collaborate on computer programming to solve a problem or address a new idea. The #HACKFOSTERCARE hackathon, put on by the Think of Us team, explores “how technology could be optimized to streamline child welfare systems and better serve youth and families.” They aim for an inclusive hackathon that brings in not only coders and tech sector people, but “also the social workers, foster parents, and most importantly, the foster youth.” (We hope to see them be even more inclusive by adding biological parents in the future to support family reunification). Events have been hosted across the country between 2016-2018 (including an event at the White House), and the Chronicle of Social Change documents some of their results from the original series.

While the majority of these projects are still in development or not widely launched, they are certainly inspirational as to how technology can have an impact on the lives of children and youth in the foster care system. We look forward to sharing more innovative ideas with you in the future!

March 2019 Innovation

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