Using AI and data analytics to ensure every child’s unique needs are met in the foster care system

By Evelyn Ratnakumar

There are approximately 430,000 children in the US foster care system. That’s nearly half a million kids whose individual medical, emotional, and psychological needs, unique personalities, and lived experiences become the State’s responsibility. Here is how AI can help case managers find the right providers to support children’s unique needs.

When a child is removed from her home, it is hardly a planned transition. Even if there was a history of abuse and neglect in the household, the child goes through feelings of insecurity and abandonment, guilt and separation anxiety, and the fear of the unknown. The child is likely hungry, dirty, and nursing wounds that would require medical attention. So, when the state makes the huge decision to intervene, it needs to have the means to support the child in every way possible.

Within the already vulnerable group of children coming into the foster care system are kids with disabilities, minority children, LGBT youth, and children with mental illnesses or learning difficulties. So, on top of doctor visits and therapy to address maltreatment, abuse, and neglect, the State must also ensure they receive the support for their individual needs.

Take, for example, kids with disabilities, who are more susceptible to neglect and abuse from parents and disproportionately face maltreatment than children without disabilities.

It is then key that their needs are met when they come under state care.

Similar attention needs to be provided to children with chronic illnesses. It is estimated that anywhere from 30% to 80% of foster youth have at least one chronic medical condition, and roughly 25% have three or more chronic illnesses. These include type 1 diabetes, eating disorders, asthma, and cerebral palsy, which all can have serious long-term health consequences if not addressed. Psychological trauma too is very real in many cases. A study in 2005 found nearly 80% of children in foster care suffered from mental health issues.

This includes children and youth with lifestyle choices that are still taboo in many communities. According to a study by nonprofit Road Island Task Force on LGBT youth, about 25 percent of gay youths are forced to leave home before age 18 because of their orientation. The study also estimated that 20 to 40 percent of all homeless youth are LGBT.

According to the American Bar Association’s guidebook for child welfare attorneys and judges, virtually all LGBTQ+ kids in group homes had reported verbal harassment; 70 percent had been subjected to violence, and 78 percent had either run away or been removed from a foster placement for reasons related to their sexuality.

Intersectional issues peek when, for example, a female LGBT youth of color has disabilities.

Finding such youth a group home or a foster home that is loving and accepting of their choices then becomes priority for welfare agencies.

How data and technology help

States, therefore, need to use data systems and the insights derived from them to ensure children with special needs are cared for within the system. This includes using technology for screening and assessment of not just the children but the group homes, foster parents as well as people who want to adopt.

One study found that agencies successful in recruiting adoptive parents for children with disabilities were those who sought prospective parents for their ability, rather than “willingness,” to adopt a child with a disability.

  • Easy, low-code assessments supplement caseworkers’ efforts in finding the best match
  • ML-enabled continuous reviews of children in foster care helps keep alive ongoing efforts to find better placements

With easy-to-follow guided processes, Cardinality’s platform improves the agency’s interaction with prospective foster parents as they move along the path to becoming certified foster homes. Once approved, a portal for the caregivers empowers them with the information and resources they need to support the children in their care.

Through Cardinality’s easy-to-use form builder, case managers can create assessments for early developmental and health screenings to be administered to all children entering the foster system. These assessments can incorporate triggers for further action that are prompted by a response.

Evidence-based action

When caseworkers do the intake, Cardinality provides real-time information about the child to help optimize their placement with the right provider. Further, the Redbird AI built into Cardinality’s platform scores each provider based on multiple criteria such as monitoring plan, background checks, training of staff, etc and matches it against historical placement data, child characteristics, medical and health factors, geographic proximity, psychographic information to suggest the most suitable provider to the caseworker.

This drastically reduces churn in foster homes and streamlines the recruitment and enrollment of caregivers.

Even after achieving permanency plans for some children, many, including kids with disabilities, need post-permanency support in the form of doctor appointments and therapy as well reaching out to the child’s school regarding accommodations and individual attention. It is, therefore, important that foster parents and guardians get the resources they need to understand how to better support children with disabilities.

There are approximately 430,000 children in the US foster care system. That’s nearly half a million kids whose individual medical, emotional, and psychological needs, unique personalities, and lived experiences become the State’s responsibility.

With a human-centric child welfare platform like Cardinality, it is entirely possible for every kid in foster care to feel heard, loved, and cared for.