Efforts like Continuum of Care Reform in California are part of the statewide goal to place more foster youth in family settings. However, many county child welfare agencies are struggling to meet these goals due to a shortage of available resource families, a group that includes both foster parents and kinship caregivers.
San Francisco has been able to increase the number of resource parents applying by more than 300 percent since partnering with Binti, a company I co-founded. Binti builds software for government and private foster care agencies to help alleviate the shortage of foster parents so that every child can have a stable, loving home.
Our work with San Francisco on this venture has been supported by the Walter S. Johnson Foundation (WSJF), which is administered by the Whittier Trust.
“WSJF sees the need for supporting innovative grantmaking that supports social enterprises like Binti, which allows government to benefit from modifying the advances made in society towards common good,” said Yali Lincroft, program director for the Walter S. Johnson Foundation.
The San Francisco Human Services Agency (HSA) was getting about four to five inquiries about foster parenting each month. Today they routinely get more than 20 per month. Here are three strategies San Francisco and Binti employed in developing a wider network of resource families.
Strategy #1: A Mobile-friendly Online Portal for Families
The status quo was that families would need to call or email the county and request an application. They also had to get a large physical pack of paperwork, which can be overwhelming. Further, the family had to wait to get started if the county was busy with other families. This could leave a negative first impression on the family, rather than letting them get started as soon as they are ready.
HSA and Binti worked together to create an online portal that lets applicants complete their entire application online. The entire application is mobile-friendly, so applicants can apply on their computer, tablet or mobile phone. The great part is that if a family is interested, they can complete the entire application on their couch on a Friday night. They don’t need to wait for anyone to help them get started. This also gives a positive first impression to families that the county is making an effort to enhance their experience by making the process as easy as possible for them.
The application saves the progress of the applying family, thus allowing them to pick up where they left off should they decide to pause at anytime. Binti only asks applicants for information once, even if five different forms ask for their phone number, and it will populate it in all the right places. An applicant is able to upload copies of supporting documents such as identity documents and proof of car insurance.
We also automate references by automatically emailing their references a link to an online reference form. When the applicant is done, Binti lets them electronically sign their application and it’s submitted to the agency, eliminating the need to print, scan or fax.
Strategy #2: A Public-facing Recruiting Website
San Francisco HSA realized that families in the community who were interested in completing an online application might have some questions before getting started. They needed an informative, modern website for families to learn about the process of becoming a resource parent.
HSA and Binti built the website sfcaresforkids.org. The site has information on fostering, adopting and volunteering in San Francisco. It also has frequently asked questions on the process, and testimonials from existing resource parents. The site is available in both English and Spanish.
Finally, if the person is interested in getting started with an application to be a resource family, they can click the link to do so, which takes them to the online portal.
Strategy #3: Software for Social Workers
During the pilot, the Binti team shadowed San Francisco’s workers for four months to understand their current process and challenges. Binti and San Francisco’s team collaboratively developed a solution that could help the team spend more time on social work and less time on paperwork.
The agency dashboard lets workers see, at a glance, all of the families and where they are in the process. They can see progress on the application, supporting documents, training hours, background checks, health screens, references, documents for other adults in the home, agency casework and more. Workers can also filter their applications to help them prioritize their time on applications that need the most immediate attention.
Applications are organized into different stages – applying, approved, withdrawn, etc. – and social workers have the ability to input new families via an intake form. The software also tracks renewals and will remind workers when renewals are due and when CPR certifications are expiring. Workers can also log and investigate complaints made on a family.
At the supervisor and director level, there are reports that help them manage their team and understand their agency’s data. Reports include case load summaries, approvals over time, public website analytics, geographic heat maps of families, and much more. Custom reports can also be pulled at-will directly from the dashboard.
While a 300 percent increase in applying families is very exciting, it also poses challenges to the team to handle this large increase. San Francisco HSA and Binti continue to work together to come up with additional ways to automate administrative work for workers to help them save time and serve more families. In addition to that, San Francisco has come up with another strategy to handle this huge increase in families: It partnered with a local foster family agency to handle some of the extra community families.