Mindie Paget
Office of Research

KU-backed software expanding to match children, adoptive families

Wed, 07/31/2019

Family walking

Foster Care Technologies awarded contract for state of Maine

LAWRENCE – A matching system powered by University of Kansas research has improved outcomes for thousands of children in foster care across the United States. Now the technology will help children in Maine find their forever homes through a partnership with the statewide adoption program.

The online tool is called ECAP (Every Child a Priority), and it empowers social workers to determine the most compatible placements for children based on their needs and the characteristics of available foster families. The company behind ECAP – Lawrence-based Foster Care Technologies – won a contract with Spurwink, a behavioral health and education services organization, to provide adoption matching for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. Starting Aug. 1, Spurwink will use ECAP to help guide the placements of all the children in Maine’s adoption program.

Although ECAP is now being used in seven states – including Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas and Washington – this will be its first statewide implementation.

“Every child deserves stability, security and unconditional love. As advocates for children in the state of Maine who are in need of a forever family, it is our responsibility to use the best available tools to identify the best available matches,” said Candace Rowell, director of foster care at Spurwink. “We are pleased to collaborate with Foster Care Technologies and are confident that ECAP’s advanced matching capabilities will help Maine’s waiting children.”

ECAP was originally developed by TFI Family Services, a Kansas child welfare agency looking for a better way to match foster families and children. Using a variety of tools and algorithms, ECAP creates an intuitive matching process that allows placement workers to compare children’s needs and characteristics with provider qualities and preferences. Researchers Terry Moore and Tom McDonald at the KU School of Social Welfare evaluated TFI’s results and discovered that children whose placements were guided by ECAP moved 22% less frequently and found permanent homes 53 days sooner than those placed without the system’s aid.

Increased stability is critical for the long-term health and well-being of children, research shows. Each failed placement means another move away from schools, friends, doctors, therapists, social services and other connections.

“That compounded trauma is overwhelming,” said Jennifer Sannan, who supervises intake and admissions for TFI Family Services. “ECAP reduces those traumas by providing data that help our social workers make better choices for children and foster families. And when a foster family’s experience is good, they refer other potential foster parents – ultimately benefitting the entire system.”

In Maine, ECAP’s capabilities have been customized for adoption placement needs, which overlap significantly with those of foster placements, said Paul Epp, chief operating officer of Foster Care Technologies.

“Through our experience with child welfare agencies and our ongoing relationship with researchers and data scientists at the University of Kansas, we know a lot about what makes a great match between children and foster or adoptive families,” Epp said.

Foster Care Technologies is a joint creation of TFI Family Services and the Bioscience & Technology Business Center (BTBC) at KU, which helped commercialize ECAP in 2014. Its team of social workers, software developers and business people continues to develop ECAP for a growing national market.

“We are gathering data over time to better understand the factors that optimize placement stability and using that information to refine ECAP,” Epp said. “One of our goals is to help make successful matches statewide in as many states as we can.”

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