Empowering agencies with Every Child A Priority—for Foster Care Technologies and Microsoft
By Andy Pitman, Director, Health and Human Services Solutions, Microsoft on December 20, 2016
Filed under Microsoft in Government
When it comes to the current state of foster care in the United States, I’m more encouraged than ever by new technologies that are improving the care and outcomes of children in need. One example is Microsoft partner Foster Care Technologies, which was formed in 2014 and recently became a Managed Services Provider, or MSP, which means they offer their solution on the secure Microsoft Azure Government cloud.
Foster Care Technologies’ leading edge foster-care placement solution is called ECAP, which stands for Every Child A Priority. It’s a web-based matching system that runs on our secure Azure platform and provides a new standard in foster-care placement stability by:
- Reducing placement disruptions
- Decreasing time to permanency (reunification or adoption)
- Delivering cost savings for foster care agencies.
Another compelling attribute of ECAP is that its results have been validated by researchers at the University of Kansas School of Social Welfare. “Children placed with the ECAP Best Match system demonstrated higher placement stability than those where approval was given for a different level of care,” said one KU researcher. “For new referrals, the stability rate was nearly three times better than those placed in a lower level of care.”
I had the opportunity to discuss ECAP with Eve Anderson, Foster Care Technologies’ director of Sales and Marketing, who previously worked in social work for 10 years, with most of that time spent in child welfare.
Andy Pitman: What is the current state of foster care across the United States, and how do you see technology playing a role in foster care?
Eve Anderson: While the foster care system is facing many complicated challenges right now, we are starting to see some promising new methods for conquering these challenges, many of which are due to improvements in technology. Child welfare agencies are benefitting from the development of new tools that help optimize operations and—most importantly—improve outcomes for children and families by guiding agency operations toward best practices that reduce trauma and deliver better care.
Pitman: Can you describe the solution that you are offering, who it helps and how it helps?
Anderson: ECAP, which stands for Every Child A Priority, is an Azure Government cloud-based matching system that predicts which families are most likely to provide the most stable placements for each child in care. One of our customers has called ECAP “the eHarmony of foster care” because it matches children with foster families based on many factors to help ensure that each placement is a good fit. ECAP also helps foster care agencies by improving efficiencies and outcomes.
Pitman: What is the ROI and benefits that agencies have realized, and do you have specific examples of agency results?
Anderson: Researchers from the School of Social Welfare at the University of Kansas studied ECAP and found that children placed with ECAP experienced 18 percent fewer placement moves and reached permanency 12 percent sooner than children placed without ECAP. In addition to reducing trauma and helping ensure a better future for children, this improves the fostering experience for resource families and creates significant cost savings for agencies. The agency that developed ECAP saved over $1.4 million a year through these improved outcomes—cost savings that we are able to track and quantify for any agency.
An agency with about 2,200 children in care experienced 452 fewer moves each year due to better placements. This means 452 fewer experiences of rejection for children, 452 fewer times children’s belongings get packed in garbage bags, and 452 fewer times a child must move into a new home with strangers who have different food, routines and habits from what the child knows. The 12 percent reduction in time to permanency translated to 53 days for this agency. To a child, 53 days can feel like a lifetime!
Pitman: How long does it take for foster care agencies to benefit from your solutions and what feedback have you received?
Anderson: Agencies can expect to see improved efficiencies almost immediately, and many have told us that children matched with families through ECAP are a much better fit than previous placement decisions. Agency staff can easily view placement recommendations and all other necessary information in one place. With successful foster care placements often lasting six months or longer, it can take up to two years for agencies to realize the full range of benefits. During this time, Foster Care Technologies reviews the variables affecting the intake process and placements to customize the system to the foster care network, resulting in ongoing benefits.
One agency that has been using ECAP for several years says that their foster family retention and recruitment rates have risen, and they attribute this to the improved matches that give families better experiences. ECAP’s algorithms weigh multiple factors in matching children with families—medical needs, mental health needs, behaviors and strengths, family and child preferences, family qualifications, the distance to the child’s home, other children in the home, the family’s placement success history and other pertinent information. While experienced social workers can often consider multiple factors in making a placement decision, ECAP assesses a vast amount of data in seconds and then displays the best placement options. Social workers appreciate the fact that ECAP doesn’t make placements for them; they still use their skills and knowledge to make the placement decision. But ECAP presents the information in a way that allows them to make those decisions more quickly and with more confidence.
Pitman: How does the cloud fit into your solution and why did you choose Microsoft Azure Government as your platform?
Anderson: ECAP is a cloud-based solution that is offered as Software as a Service and is securely hosted with Microsoft Azure Government. We chose Azure because it helped us meet all the security requirements needed to protect our customers’ health information, including adherence to HIPAA/HITECH, which regulates patient protected information in the United States. It is scalable for rapid growth and easy to use. We often work with government entities, and Azure has anticipated the needs of these institutions, which has helped us meet their needs more quickly and efficiently. We continually improve ECAP with the help of our social welfare researchers and user feedback, and a cloud-based platform allows us to immediately and seamlessly make those improvements available to our customers.
Microsoft web tools make it easy to manage resources. We use other Microsoft tools also and have been impressed with both the tools and the support Microsoft gives us. They offer startup services, including Azure credits, through the BizSpark program to help small companies like ours. Azure also has the option to use integrated data tools that we can use to improve our offerings to our customers.
Pitman: Any closing thoughts?
Anderson: We believe there is a great opportunity to use technology to improve the lives of vulnerable children and families across the nation. With over 400,000 children in foster care, this vital population deserves every tool available to help solve the challenges that are so often a part of the foster care system. Our mission is to help our agency partners become the leaders in what is becoming a new standard in placement stability, leading to the ultimate goal of improved experiences for children and families everywhere.
My thanks to Eve for sharing her thoughts about this revolutionary matching system that improves outcomes for foster children and families. You can learn more about ECAP and why it is making Every Child A Priority here.