CR Participates in First-Ever Foster Care Technology “Hackathon”

By CR Staff

Children's Rights Litigation Director Ira Lustbader, Commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families Rafael López

Children’s Rights Litigation Director Ira Lustbader (left), Commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families Rafael López (right)

Technology is radically changing how we live our lives on a daily basis – but when it comes to foster care systems, we’re lagging far behind. At a first-of-its kind event, some of the biggest minds in child welfare and technology, including CR’s own litigation director Ira Lustbader, and representatives from organizations like the Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Microsoft, StackOverflow, and Stanford Law School’s Design Lab, joined forces for the White House Foster Care and Technology Hackathon May 25th and 26th.

The event began with widespread buzz, thanks to a social media campaign that gave rise to the trending hashtag #hackfostercare. Hosted by the White House, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Think of Us, a non-profit dedicated to innovating with data, technology and multimedia to serve vulnerable populations, leaders collaborated during the two-day event to develop fresh, innovative ideas to revamp old technologies, and create new ones that stand to have an immediate impact on the lives of foster youth.

Child welfare workers often face barriers when they go to access essential documents, an issue that has long plagued the child welfare system. Until now, the child welfare system had yet to develop a way to pool together all relevant personal information for each child – things like placement history, medical and mental health history and education records.

“Front-line child welfare caseworkers often do not have accurate electronic real-time critical information from across sectors about kids so that they can make informed decisions,” said Lustbader. “Every time that happens, a child is at risk…The perception that information cannot be shared is just not reality.”

In conjunction with the hackathon, The White House announced sweeping changes to the federal requirements for automated data systems, allowing state and county child welfare agencies to use more effective technology to quickly identify youth and family needs and link them to services, and promote exchange of information between agencies, health care facilities and schools.

The youth themselves often hit roadblocks when they go to access personal documents, leaving them unempowered and uninformed. To that end, Lustbader and other experts in the legal field emphasized the critical need to make certain that children have access, control, protection and preservation of their information.

“Children have a right to access information about them, and should have control over information about them. It’s about basic dignity and human rights,” said Lustbader.

Additionally, leaders called on every state to begin automatically re-enrolling foster youth in Medicaid after they age out of the system, despite their continued eligibility under the Affordable Care Act until they are 26. The struggles of so many “aging out youth” to survive on their own (housing, employment, service needs) when they leave state custody makes placing the obligation on these youth to reenroll an unnecessary and huge burden with dire consequences for something as basic as access to health care.

The White House also announced several exciting initiatives and tools, including a mobile-friendly web app that gives resources to young people battling homelessness and addiction:

  • U.S. Department of Education Foster Care Transition Toolkit: The U.S. Department of Education released a comprehensive toolkit for foster youth transitioning out of care that highlights ways to successfully pursue higher education and careers post high school.
  • U.S. Department of Labor Get My Future App: The U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Employment and Training Administration has launched GetMyFuture.org, a mobile-friendly webapp within the Career One Stop website (an informational website sponsored by DOL) for youth to plan careers, explore education and training options and search and apply for jobs.
  • Pritzker Foster Care Initiative’s New Foster Care Technology Innovation Fund: The Pritzker Foster Care Initiative announced the launch of a $1 million Foster Care Technology Innovation Fund to boost non-profit entrepreneurial efforts targeted to supporting transition age youth 18-24 years of age in the foster care system.

More information on white house initiatives can be found here.