As technology advances exponentially, nearly all industries take strides to integrate new options and advances into their work. Nearly all. Child welfare systems - and the government agencies they are part of - have been slow to harness the plethora of opportunities that technology provides. On the surface, most foster youth don’t have regular access to computers, limiting both their ability to perform in school and their access to programs. Within the field, the child welfare system has failed to fully leverage technology in order to track and improve outcomes for children and families.
To address this discrepancy, the White House partnered with Think of Us on May 26 and 27, 2016, to host the first ever Foster Care and Technology Hackathon. Hackathons are used in both the corporate and philanthropic fields to bring together software designers and experts of underserved sectors in order to build creative solutions to specific problems.
Our founder Sherry was invited and joined more than 150 leaders in child welfare, tech, law, and policy, along with foster youth and parents to take action to improve the use of technology for our nation's most vulnerable children and their families. Participants first discussed ways to improve the foster care system through the use of technology, and then put their skills to use by building prototypes of applications designed to benefit foster youth.
Each of eight teams focused on a specific challenge facing the child welfare system, including integrating technology into child welfare agencies; preventing homelessness for youth who have aged out of care; making documents more readily available to foster youth; helping families connect with addiction and recovery services; attracting more families to sign up to be foster parents; empowering foster youth with decision making abilities; creating a digital framework to protect child welfare information, and preventing unplanned pregnancies among foster youth. The foster children and parents who attended played a critical role in the Hackathon, providing teams with their invaluable input as well as helping to present their prototypes at the end.
At the Hackathon, the White House announced several steps towards improving the relationship between the child welfare and technology sectors. For example, the White House will be releasing new regulations to make it easier for states to modernize their child welfare data systems. Additionally, in response to the Hackathon, the State of California pledged to distribute 10,000 laptops to foster youth ages 16-21 over the next three years. For a full list of the White House announcements, read their press release here.
Sherry noted that one theme of the hackathon was the importance of combining experienced professionals in the child welfare system with outsiders who bring a diverse set of skills.
"It was exciting to see innovators from both the child welfare and technology sectors coming together at the Hackathon," she explained. "Everyone there shared the belief that by joining forces and combining different areas of expertise, we will spark new solutions in the child welfare sector."
Sherry’s time at the hackathon reinforced her faith in Foster America's mission to build a pipeline of leaders with diverse skill sets who will design thoughtful and creative solutions to improve the lives of vulnerable children.
"We plan to build on this momentum and create a movement of innovators, from both within and outside of the sector, who will work together to transform the child welfare system."
Check out this White House video for an inside look at the hackathon.