Improving Foster Care

Start Date: August 2019

Portfolio: Data + Digital

Stage: Exploratory

Summary + Problem Statement

An estimated one in 17 Americans will spend at least one day in foster care. Many of those children end up separated from relatives, in group homes, or in poorly matched foster homes in part because the foster family licensing process (including for relatives) is cumbersome and often takes more than 200 days. Most recruitment relies on billboards and word of mouth instead of data. And the sense of urgency to safely place a child on a moment’s notice means initial placements are often not family members or based on the child’s specific needs.This is especially problematic for kin families, as children can languish for months living with strangers or in group homes while waiting for adults who already know and love them to be approved as placements.

The state of Rhode Island recently transformed practices within its foster care licensing and approval system leading to increased efficiencies including reducing the time it takes for a foster family to complete the licensing process. Additional states have committed to adapting the lessons learned in the coming months and by scaling this practice to additional states, this project has the ability to markedly improve the states’ processes, reducing the time it takes for foster families to be vetted and matched with children, and impacting the lives of thousands of foster children and serve as a national model.

Project Elements


Several states have been experimenting with creative practices that lead to tangible improvements and efficiencies in their support of foster children and families. The Digital Service Collaborative, in partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation, will bring together 15 states and counties that are at the cutting edge of this work, and team them up with New America’s Public Interest Technology team, Foster America, technologists, and other key stakeholders in the space to create an actionable playbook. The playbook will document practices that create tangible improvements that can be quickly operationalized to improve processes, reducing the time it takes for foster families to be vetted and matched with children, and impacting the lives of thousands of foster children. 

Explore the Child Welfare Playbook


This project will employ practices rooted in user-centered design and digital technology to improve the efficiency of licensing foster families, with a particular focus on making relatives available placements for the children in their lives, as well as how states match children in foster care with families. Through incremental and realistic changes to the foster care system, this group will demonstrate the opportunity for new policy models that can improve children’s lives. Looking beyond technology-first solutions to a more holistic assessment of systems, bureaucracy, and people, this working group will improve the licensing process for foster families and more rapid placement of foster children.

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People on this project

Emily Tavoulareas

Fellow, Data + Digital
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Vandhana Ravi

Program Associate, Data + Digital
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cori zarek headshot

Cori Zarek

Executive Director
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