Child Welfare “Hackathon” Yields Ideas, Collaboration and Momentum

Posted June 6, 2016
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog wh hackathon 2016

Dur­ing the 24-hour White House Fos­ter Care and Tech­nol­o­gy Hackathon, a diverse mix of tech­nol­o­gy lead­ers, child wel­fare experts and con­cerned cit­i­zens gen­er­at­ed solu­tions for some of fos­ter care’s most press­ing issues, includ­ing home­less­ness, teen preg­nan­cy and a lack of fos­ter families.

We hope the hackathon is the begin­ning of a nation­al move­ment to bring togeth­er tech­nol­o­gists, phil­an­thropists, legal experts, stake­hold­ers and sys­tem lead­ers to cre­ate a much-need­ed shift in the con­ver­sa­tion about using tech­nol­o­gy to con­tribute to the well-being of chil­dren and fam­i­lies,” says Eric Miley, a pro­gram asso­ciate with the Casey Foun­da­tion who helped lead the two-day event.

Ear­ly com­mit­ments to the effort include:

  • A $1 mil­lion fund from the U.S. Admin­is­tra­tion for Chil­dren, Youth and Fam­i­lies to help agen­cies update data sys­tems, matched by a $1 mil­lion Tech­nol­o­gy Inno­va­tion Fund from the Pritzk­er Fos­ter Care Ini­tia­tive to boost efforts to use tech­nol­o­gy on behalf of youth in fos­ter care ages 1824;
  • An effort, launched by the Wal­ter S. John­son Foun­da­tion and Fos­ter Care Counts, to pro­vide lap­tops to Cal­i­for­nia youths ages 1620 to encour­age them to stay in school; and
  • A plan, announced by cloud-com­put­ing heavy­weight Sales​force​.com, to pro­to­type a mod­ern case man­age­ment sys­tem for fos­ter care agencies.

The hackathon, held May 2627, brought togeth­er more than 150 par­tic­i­pants to focus on solv­ing prob­lems by col­lab­o­rat­ing on the design and devel­op­ment of soft­ware prototypes.

Hackathons — used in the cor­po­rate world — involve teams of soft­ware engi­neers, data sci­en­tists, design­ers and sub­ject-mat­ter experts work­ing togeth­er on spe­cif­ic problems.

Busi­ness­es have often use hackathons to encour­age cre­ativ­i­ty and to gen­er­ate prod­uct break­throughs,” Miley says. Increas­ing­ly, hackathons are being used in the phil­an­thropic and social sec­tors to lever­age dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies and improve how pub­lic sys­tems deliv­er ser­vices — even to rethink how sys­tems, gov­ern­ments and phil­an­thropies con­ceive of their work.”

The White House hackathon involved teams from dozens of tech­nol­o­gy firms includ­ing Microsoft and Stack Over­flow; the Pres­i­den­tial Inno­va­tion Fel­lows; open-source guru Scott Hansel­man; U.S. Chief Data Sci­en­tist D.J. Patil; U.S. Chief Tech­nol­o­gy Offi­cer Megan Smith, for­mer vice pres­i­dent at Google; and Rafael López, com­mis­sion­er of the U.S. Admin­is­tra­tion on Chil­dren, Youth and Fam­i­lies. A team of devel­op­ers from Kalon Glob­al Group even trav­eled from Roma­nia to lend a hand.

Hack­ers focused on sev­er­al chal­lenges, including:

  • Help­ing infants and chil­dren born to moth­ers with sub­stance abuse issues by stream­lin­ing the process by which moth­ers can access the resources they need to over­come addiction;
  • Facil­i­tat­ing fos­ter par­ent recruit­ment efforts and help­ing prospec­tive fos­ter par­ents assess their readi­ness for fostering;
  • Enhanc­ing plat­forms to help young peo­ple define goals and access employ­ment, edu­ca­tion and hous­ing ser­vices and opportunities;
  • Devel­op­ing a tool to help iden­ti­fy tech­nol­o­gy prod­ucts for child wel­fare sys­tems and con­nect sys­tems with inno­v­a­tive ideas to tech­nol­o­gists who can help with development; 
  • Enabling iFos­ter to allow young peo­ple access to essen­tial doc­u­ments, such as social secu­ri­ty records; and 
  • Pro­vid­ing in dig­i­tal form infor­ma­tion about sex­u­al health, includ­ing preg­nan­cy plan­ning and prevention.

Pres­i­dent Oba­ma believes that with enhanced com­mit­ment and coor­di­na­tion, the tech­nol­o­gy and child wel­fare sec­tors can work togeth­er to solve some of our most press­ing issues,” accord­ing to a White House state­ment, which cit­ed numer­ous exam­ples of tech­nol­o­gy being used to help young peo­ple in fos­ter care.

Six­to Can­cel, who grew up in fos­ter care and is the founder of ThinkO­fUs — a start­up voic­ing the needs of young peo­ple — implored fel­low hack­ers to adopt a sense of urgency to advance reforms.

Be unapolo­getic,” Can­cel said. Your pri­ma­ry mis­sion is to serve our own broth­ers and sis­ters who have been in fos­ter care.”

To get involved with sim­i­lar hackathons planned for New York City, Sil­i­con Val­ley and else­where, con­tact Eric Miley.

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