Heartland Health Monitor
8:30 am
Fri June 27, 2014

Online Tool Helps Match Foster Children, Families

The University of Kansas and a child advocacy group have developed an online tool that helps social workers match adoptive families with children in foster care.

The tool, called Every Child a Priority, or ECAP, uses statistical analysis and technology to figure out which families are most likely to meet a child’s needs.

“Essentially, ECAP is an enhanced matchmaking service for children and families,” Mike Patrick, chief executive at TFI Family Services Inc., said in a prepared statement.

A Topeka-based charity, TFI began developing the tool about two years ago. It later turned to KU’s Bioscience & Technology Business Center for help in marketing and selling ECAP.

The two entities later formed Foster Care Technologies, a small, for-profit company based in Lawrence.

The company plans to sell licensing agreements to child-placing agencies throughout the United States.

“Adoption placement stability is a federally tracked outcome that all foster care agencies have to address,” says Paul Epp, managing director of Foster Care Technologies. “So they’re all looking to improve in this area.”

ECAP, he says, is designed to predict families’ success in rearing children whose histories include physical or mental illnesses, aggressive behaviors, running away, lying and substance abuse.

In Kansas, almost 1,000 of the more than 6,100 children in foster care have had their parental rights severed and are available for adoption.

According to state records, the number of Kansas children in foster care reached all-time highs in March, April and May.

Kansas privatized most of its foster care services in 1996, after the system failed several court-ordered reviews.

Before last year, TFI was one of four nonprofit organizations charged with overseeing foster, family preservation and adoption services in Kansas.

TFI lost its contract in January 2013 when state officials decided to contract with two providers instead of four.

While developing ECAP, TFI asked two KU School of Social Welfare researchers, Terry Moore and Tom McDonald, to test the tool’s effectiveness. Their research showed a 23 percent increase in "placement stability" and a two-month reduction in the time it took to place a child with a family.

“Placement stability is a crucial measure,” Moore said. “Obviously, you want to minimize the degree to which kids are moving from place to place to place. That kind of constant upheaval isn’t good for them. We found ECAP to be a viable tool for increasing placement stability.”

Dave Ranney is senior writer/editor with KHI News Service, an editorially independent reporting program of the Kansas Health Institute.