Leveraging Technology to Benefit Kids in Foster Care in California

by Beth Morrow

There’s an app for that! What was once a witty slogan is now truer than ever before. We have endless options for apps that help us organize our lives, keep track of our workouts, and much more. For many of us, technology eases life planning and connects us to the resources we need to make life a little easier. For foster youth and families, technology can play a vital role to better address their care and support needs—and we are heading in the right direction.

In May 2016, the White House hosted the first-ever Foster Care & Technology Hackathon, ushering in a new era for foster care. Organized by the Pritzker Foster Care Initiative, the US Department of Health and Human Services, and Think of Us, the Hackathon was an opportunity to leverage technology to identify ways to improve health, education, and economic outcomes for youth and families in foster care. Hackathons, as a model, welcome ideas and solutions from the technology sector to previously identified challenges in the child welfare system and invite foster youth and families to weigh in on those ideas and solutions. The events bring together a mix of people—from child welfare experts to software developers, technology leaders to foster youth or foster care alumni—with diverse skills and perspectives, who stimulate one another’s creativity, cross-pollinate ideas, and develop concrete prototypes or proposals that address challenges posed to the group. In doing so, a new partnership between technology and child welfare emerges to tackle real life challenges impacting the lives of children and youth in foster care.

The White House event also inspired further hackathons, including one that will take place next week in Silicon Valley (Feb. 27-28). The Silicon Valley Foster Care Summit will put its unique stamp on this opportunity, with the involvement of a broad set of major technology firms and commitments from partners to provide laptops and tech internship opportunities for foster youth in the community. The Summit—organized by the Silicon Valley Children’s Fund, TeenForce, and Think of Us, and sponsored by the Walter S. Johnson Foundation and others—promises to build on the momentum to make lasting change for children and youth in foster care.  

The Children’s Partnership is proud to join our partners at the Silicon Valley hackathon and bring our ten years of experience working on health information technology solutions to improve care and services for children and youth in foster care. Thanks to the infusion of energy and new ideas fostered by the hackathons, these efforts are gaining traction in child welfare. California’s hackathons are tackling head on the need to improve access to laptops, smart phones and low-cost broadband access for foster youth and their caregivers, while simultaneously developing apps and systems for their use.

The time is right in California to leverage technology to support the transformation of child welfare services through the Continuum of Care Reform and to enhance the impact of the Child Welfare Services case management system that is being designed and developed right now. In these and other initiatives, digital tools and features can be deployed to improve care coordination, engage foster parents more effectively, and empower foster youth themselves.

Hackathons, like the one taking place next week in Silicon Valley and one being planned for Los Angeles at the end of April, are an important building block in the evolution of child welfare services. However, the work cannot stop after the events and those of us tackling these issues must share resources and lessons learned to ensure the best results. As partners in the fight to support children and youth in foster care, child welfare advocates, community organizations, technology companies, child welfare agencies, and foster youth themselves must continue the collaboration and press forward to realize the value of this opportunity.

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