Hacking Foster Care at Box

My main role is leading business analytics and data science here at Box and I've been fortunate to closely witness Box putting its data to work for the benefit our customers, partners and internal teams.  It has been even more fulfilling to team with my Box.org counterparts to bring my team's data expertise and Box assets into the service of nonprofits and communities during my tenure here.  

My team and I have now pursued several volunteering projects leveraging our analytical skills and tools that are creating community benefit.  A few weeks ago, I had the great pleasure to represent Box at a hack-a-thon organized at the White House, focused on Foster Care and Technology.

If you are like me and know very little about our national foster care system, here are some background statistics (sorry- I'm a data guy):

  • 400,000 kids in our national foster care system on any given day
  • 100,000 kids waiting to be adopted
  • 23,000 kids age out of the system every year without ever finding a permanent home
  • Significant percentage of former foster youth suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, with many ending up homeless or in jail

The current national system is a patchwork of last century's technology. The result is inadequate oversight and poor support to the kids that need it most:

  • Majority of child welfare documentation is still based on pen and paper. This slows down decisions affecting kids’ lives down to a trickle.
  • Information available to child welfare professionals or to the courts to make decisions about a particular case is patchy at best. Tens of kids are completely “lost” from the system every year.

The hack-a-thon, hosted by The White House, US Department of Health and Human Services and Think of Us, brought together representatives from child welfare, nonprofit organizations and philanthropies, attorneys, foster care families and alumni as well as from the technology sector to discuss solutions to these challenges.

Three themes had particular resonance for me:

1.) Complex problems require a multi-faceted approach to solve them

  • E.g., a new legal framework is required to ensure easy access to child welfare information across agencies while maintaining certain protections; innovative technology is required to get more foster families to sign up to be foster homes, etc. Each require very distinct backgrounds and expertise.

2.) The future is already here, but it is not fairly distributed

  • Most of the challenges faced CAN be solved by today's technology.
  • E.g., 18 year-olds without a secure roof on their head can hardly be responsible to keep a paper copy of essential documents. Instead, a secure, cloud-based 'digital locker' is in the works so that foster youth can always have access to their most precious documentation. (I am proud that my company, Box, is participating in this effort.)

3.)  Big Data will have a profound impact to so many facets of our day-to-day life

  • A judge from De Kalb county in Georgia spoke about how the quality of court decisions in his court have dramatically improved as a result of digitizing and making additional data points about foster care cases readily available
  • In an era of digitization, the game is about ensuring interoperable and standardized data movement across systems and organizations, available to the right person at the right time, and with the right level of security and permission levels.

I'm excited to continue to represent Box in the important role our technology and teams can play in improving outcomes for foster youth.  Our involvement in this important area of work has only just begun.

For more information on the White House event click here. If you would like to help out, the following are a few of the great nonprofit organizations doing great work in this space:

To learn more about our work with nonprofits including our license donation program please visit www.box.org