Disrupting Disruptions: Using Technology to Improve Child Welfare Outcomes.

Author:Anderson, Eve
Position:Technology speaks
 
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Technology and data are woven into the fabric of our lives. Dating sites promise to help us find true love through compatibility matching. Movie streaming services predict which shows we will enjoy based on past viewing habits. Grocery stores track our purchases and send us digital coupons tailored to our tastes. In every field, data--enabled by technology--are used to attain desired outcomes.

While algorithms like these are used by most companies, until recently the social services field has generally lacked usable technologies that improve outcomes. That is starting to change, as new tools are developed to improve efficacy and efficiencies. Policymakers, executives, and social workers are embracing technology as a way to support and enhance the important work of helping others. Data and technology can help agencies meet needs more effectively and accomplish their missions.

One such tool is Every Child A Priority (ECAP), which matches children with foster families who are most compatible and qualified to meet their needs. TFI Family Services, a private child-placing agency, originally created ECAP with the goal of improving its own placement process. Agency staff realized that its placement decisions were largely based on which families said "yes," rather than detailed consideration of qualifications, preferences, and compatibility. They set out to define the characteristics involved in a good foster placement and to create workflows to ensure each child was truly matched--not just placed--with a family. Utilizing software as the tool to implement these standards, they made the first version of ECAP.

ECAP's goal is to make placement decisions easier and more effective by showing workers which families are most likely to be a good fit for each child based on the characteristics, interests, preferences, locations, and histories of both the child and the families. Relevant information is displayed as text, icons, and on a map. Matching filters allow workers to drill down and search for families with specific characteristics.

After creating and using the ECAP prototype, TFI staff noticed improved efficiencies in their placement process. Workers were spending less time calling families. Their foster parent retention rate improved, and foster families seemed to feel more confident and content in their fostering journey. They approached the University of Kansas School of Social Welfare (KU) to identify whether ECAP was actually making a...

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