Published in Children’s Voice, Volume 28, Number 1
by Emily Shenk Flory
When Jason and Nikki Bays became foster parents in 2014, they knew the experience would be challenging. What they didn’t expect was the mass of notes, emails, and paperwork they would accumulate while trying to document the experiences of four children over several years. Six months into their journey as foster parents, they began to search for a better way to keep track of everything.
“We tried to find different solutions, but nothing really worked well,” Jason Bays says. His experience as a software developer and his wife’s background in education gave them the knowledge they needed to create a solution. They went on to adopt their foster children, and during that time they developed a collaborative platform that allowed them to keep journals about their children’s behaviors, share those updates with the therapists, caseworkers, and others working with their children, and talk to everyone in one place.
“FosterCare.Team was designed to address the issues we faced as foster parents,” Bays says. “We took the concept of a collaboration platform and customized it for child welfare.”
FosterCare.Team is web-based software that allows the team surrounding a child in foster care to communicate easily and efficiently. The site launched in April 2018 and is being used in seven states so far. “One worker said this is going to completely change child welfare, and I agree with that,” Bays says. “There’s no other software that does what we are doing.” The website’s intuitive, easy-to-use format works well on mobile devices, allowing team members to make updates on the go. There’s a dictation feature so caseworkers can speak their notes into the system after visits and foster parents can add journal entries in the moment. Team members can comment on posts to provide immediate support and feedback. To help with logistics, a scheduling tool finds times that all team members are free for meetings and a calendar feature keeps track of the child’s appointments, school events, and parent visits. Tasks can be assigned to specific people, along with reminders and deadlines for each task.
Caseworkers often struggle with too many channels for communication. With information coming in from therapists, foster parents, supervisors, and others via text, phone calls, emails, Google Docs, Evernote, and voicemails, caseworkers might have to look several places to find what they’re looking for. Having one communication system with FosterCare.Team—especially one that’s searchable—helps them be much more organized and efficient.
“It changes the role of the worker,” says Bays. “She’s no longer chasing the information. She’s using the information to change a child’s life.”
When FosterCare.Team is used agency-wide, supervisors can see each of their caseworkers’ engagement on the platform, view charts with overviews of children’s behaviors, and observe how the agency’s foster parents are feeling. It can also be customized for each agency, with web-enabled versions of the agency’s forms, pre-loaded with the agency’s or caseworker’s information, and the ability to complete signatures online. Bays plans to integrate FosterCare.Team with other case management systems, including SACWIS.
Within the secure web-based portal, every feature has privacy options to allow users to select who can view what information. “We use banking-level encryption so everything that moves between the server and the browser is encrypted in transit,” Bays says. “HIPAA compliance is an important aspect of our platform.”
If a new person joins the child’s team, they can get up to date by viewing the child’s history on FosterCare.Team. Given the high turnover rates of foster parents and caseworkers, this kind of seamless transition is key. “Let’s say one caseworker leaves and another one enters the team—all that history is going to be there for them to look at and build upon,” Bays says. The history is easily searchable, so if a team member wants to track how often a certain behavior is happening, for example, getting that data is just a click away. “I don’t think a lot of agencies realize how important communication is. When there’s failure to communicate in the child welfare world, it’s a significant, life-changing event,” Bays says. “Part of my job is allowing data to tell a story.”
To read the rest of this article, login as a CWLA member or download this issue of Children’s Voice here.
Emily Shenk Flory is a writer and editor based in Washington, DC. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post and NationalGeographic.com.