Yesterday, the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) reported out to stakeholders and the legislature about the progress made on the State’s new child welfare case management system (the “new system”) project. What is notable, from our children’s advocate perspective, is the State’s effort to design this new system in a manner that uses technology to transform care coordination for children and youth in foster care. To make the most of this moment, The Children’s Partnership wants to hear from you.
This major child welfare tech upgrade offers a tremendous opportunity to improve cross-sector communication and team planning to support children and youth in foster care. Unlike the current child welfare IT system, which is available only to child welfare staff, the new system will connect with and across members of the broader care team, like health providers, education rights holders, and foster youth themselves. If done right, the end product will be a system that directly supports those who have the most at stake—children and youth in foster care. To do this, the State has opened a call for stakeholders to submit “user stories” that lay out the data elements the improved system should capture, how it should handle such data, and explanations of why these changes are necessary. These stories will assist the people developing the data system to better meet the needs of the users.
The Children’s Partnership has been working with a broad set of stakeholders to develop extensive recommendations as to how this “connected” system can make a positive difference in the lives of children and youth in foster care. In response to the new opportunity to provide input through user stories, we will be working with stakeholders to translate these recommendations into user stories that can support the State in its design process and ensure it best responds to the needs of children and youth in foster care and their families.
Tomorrow, The Children’s Partnership will present at the first ever White House Foster Care and Technology Hackathon—an event organized by the Pritzker Family Foundation, the White House, the US Department of Health and Human Services, and Think of US, a nonprofit that promotes technology innovations to better support foster youth. The two-day event during National Foster Care Month brings together programmers and tech experts alongside individuals from the child welfare, legal, and nonprofit sectors to explore how technology innovation can improve outcomes for families and youth who experience foster care.
Improvements to our foster care system through the use of technology will be the focus of panel discussions and speakers. Additionally, those connected with the child welfare system will have the opportunity to team up with technology experts to “hack” real world challenges that foster care youth, families, and child welfare workers face.
TCP is proud to join this important event and bring our 10 years of experience working on health information technology solutions for foster care to the discussion. Mounting evidence shows that on a number of outcome measures—including college graduation, employment, housing stability, dependence on public assistance, and incarceration—former foster youth often struggle well into adulthood. Just half of the 400,000 children in the US foster care system will complete high school by age 18. This trajectory needs to change.
In our latest issue brief, titled “Engaging Foster Youth and Foster Parents in Electronic Records Initiatives: Lessons Learned,” we highlight important projects across the country that will help inform the collective brainstorm around solutions at the White House Hackathon event. As our new brief notes, electronic records initiatives can help knit together a care team, make sure that care decisions are informed by critical data, and offer youth a voice in their own care by equipping them with their own life records.
The White House event, a convening of some of the brightest minds in the field, will begin to address these issues on the national stage by creatively considering new solutions to the obstacles that prevent children and youth in foster care from achieving their full potential. We are honored to be a part of that conversation.
We’ve all had the experience of misplacing an insurance card or losing a child’s immunization record. Such documents always seem to go missing right when we need them—say, when a child must enroll in school or when we require medical care.
Hard copies of important documents are easy to lose track of, particularly when life circumstances require a move or change in living arrangements, as is often the case for youth in foster care. These frequent disruptions lead to fragmented health care and disorganized, incomplete, and outdated life records. Safe, online storage of critical personal documents would be especially helpful to older foster youth when they are transitioning out of foster care to more independent living arrangements and assuming responsibility for their own needs.
Equipping these transition age youth with an “electronic backpack” for critical documents could help ensure that they have their own records and personal histories available when they seek employment, housing, and educational opportunities as young adults. Such a tool could also free up time for busy caseworkers who would be able to spend less time chasing down missing documents and records and more time offering meaningful support.
A new issue brief from The Children’s Partnership describes how counties in California can integrate this type of tool into existing processes and requirements under AB 12—a law that extends welfare benefits and services to foster youth in California up to the age of 21 if they choose to remain in the program past their 18th birthday. Agencies interested in empowering youth with their own critical life documents can follow the roadmap included in the brief, which identifies optimal opportunities for integrating an electronic record system into the emancipation process.
This innovative and streamlined approach will help ensure that youth entering extended foster care are empowered with the critical life documents and records they need to thrive as independent adults.
California is a crucible of innovation and creativity, where new technologies are rapidly transforming health care. In particular, the explosion of digital health tools is spurring a cultural shift in the way that individuals manage their health and well-being, allowing for a more active role, such as the ability to track one’s own health status and use data to guide personal decisions. But how do we ensure that all Californians benefit from this progress?
Ventura County is tackling this problem with a forward-thinking approach to improving outcomes for a population that is often left behind by technology innovations—children and youth in foster care. Last week, the County launched Foster Health Link (FHL), an electronic record for foster parents that includes key health and education information about the kids in their care. Foster Health Link will improve continuity of care for foster youth and their caregivers by moving records from a disorganized and impermanent paper format to an automated, secure system that can be accessed, maintained, and shared electronically. The groundbreaking public-private project, which The Children’s Partnership has supported since its inception, was led by the Ventura County Human Services Agency and received a strong endorsement from the Board of Supervisors last week. The Board described FHL as a huge step forward for foster kids in Ventura County.Antony Brennan, a foster parent from Ventura, said FHL is a time-saver for caregivers who previously had to piece together information about the children in their care from stacks of paper records.
This ambitious project is a shining example of how government agencies can be innovators in the child welfare space and apply technology to find better solutions for the clients they serve. The launch of Foster Health Link is a clear sign of progress for children and youth in foster care in Ventura County, and indeed, a deserving cause for celebration.