Can tech companies transform foster care?

Technology is helping to transform foster care by automating document management, increasing empathy, and improving compatibility.
18 September 2018 | 28 Shares

By transforming document management, foster care organizations can drastically reduce the child placement period. Source: Shutterstock

More than 400,000 children and youth are in foster care in the United States. And according to a 2017 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) report, the number of children in the foster care system nationally has increased for the fourth year in a row.

The foster care system in the U.S. plays an important role in the lives of many families’, offering vital care and services for children when their parents, for various reasons, cannot.

Despite the vital necessity of foster care organizations and the valuable service they provide, the system has typically be viewed as a complex and difficult landscape to navigate.

For example, there is a well-documented shortage of social workers in the country, and as a result, this often leads to caseworkers taking on more cases than their capacity.

Fortunately, we are now seeing the use of technology in helping to improve many aspects of the foster care system. Here are a few examples.

Improving document management with cloud technology

The management of documentation within the foster care system can be an administrative burden, with each caseworker required to process and manage extensive paperwork and documentation for each individual task.

It is clear that the digital transformation of the way children’s documents are managed is needed in order to ease the pressure off of caseworkers and place children with the right families faster.

One way some foster care organizations are doing this is through adopting cloud-based systems for document automation.

This is exactly what Joe Rocko did, director of residential and community services at New Beginning Children’s Home (NBCH). The foster home implemented Laserfiche, a cloud-based system for managing information and business processes digitally.

With a digital document system, communication can be drastically streamlined by enabling the organization to store information in one centralized location. This allows all parties to collaborate much more efficiently and find the information needed with just a simple search.

Lost and incomplete paperwork is a huge problem for many foster care organizations. Source: Shutterstock

As a result of using a document management system, NBCH has been able to significantly improve placement times for foster children in need. While it used to take nine to 12 months to place a child into a new foster family’s home, it now takes only one to two months.

“[A cloud solution] enables us to be more efficient, helping to drive our communication in such a way that all of the licensing information can be quickly compared to the child’s case. We use this newfound efficiency to quickly determine if a family is a right fit for a child,” explained Rocko.

Better compatibility using matching algorithms

State adoption systems often result in failed placements, with many children having to endure the process of years in and out of foster homes.

But now technology is now looking to be the solution. Algorithms are now being used to match foster children with families in a scientific way which will help to ensure stability and longevity.

Algorithms have long been used to connect strangers looking for love, such as those used on popular dating site eHarmony.com. So why not use the same system for foster care and adoptions?

Algorithms can better match foster children with families. Source: Shutterstock

This is exactly what Family-Match.org is piloting in Virginia, a state ranked 48th in the nation in connecting adoptive parents with children in its care.

The platform uses data to discover and match compatible families and children, increasing placement stability and achieving better outcomes for everyone.

For families, characteristics such as personalities, marital adjustment, expectations, and more are explored. And for children, factors considered are previous foster experience, behaviors, resiliency factors, among others.

The data gathered from both the family and the child apprises a family match and helps the greatest number of families provide stability and permanency for children

Virtual reality to give foster parents great empathy for childhood trauma

In recent years, virtual reality (VR) has been used in many ways to help individuals experience a range of realistic immersive scenarios to build empathy. From war zones to blindness to epilepsy- many interesting projects have been developed using VR.

And now the emerging technology is being used as a way for prospective foster parents to help understand the traumatic experiences children in care may have experienced.

VR is helping foster parents learn how to deal with certain scenarios. Source: Shutterstock

A project from The Cornerstone Partnership named “Being Me” aims to stimulate the experience of a child who has come into care. This VR experience starts from the perspective of an unborn child, with the viewer confronted with signs of domestic violence substance abuse from the womb.

From here, the viewers move through different scenes of neglect, abandonment, substance abuse, and domestic violence from the perspectives of children of different ages.

Eventually the viewer shifts to the perspective of a seven-year-old in an adoptive family. It involves a scenario in which a child is sent home from school for fighting. The viewer is shown a variety of reactions from the adoptive mother, with the intention of portraying the best ways to deal with the situation in line with the context of previous traumas.