Early next year, when it hosts its own “Hack Foster Care Summit,” Silicon Valley will pick up the baton in the third leg of what is becoming a national effort to better use technology to improve the lives of children and youth in foster care.
Back in May the Administration for Children Youth and Families convened the first ever White House Foster Care hackathon, which has sparked follow up events in New York, Santa Clara, Los Angeles and likely Massachusetts.
Silicon Valley’s similarly themed summit will be hosted at Microsoft’s headquarters in Mountain View on February 27-28 of 2017.
The Silicon Valley Leadership Group Foundation and the Hack Foster Care coalition – a network of technology companies, non-profits, foundations, foster youth alumni and governmental agencies – are aiming to better the lives of Santa Clara County’s 1,440 foster youth by engaging the region’s technology sector around data analytics, artificial intelligence, and cloud-based solutions.
Yali Lincroft, a program officer at The Walter S. Johnson Foundation, was present at the May hackathon.
“The White House event was exciting,” Lincroft said, “but I think the most important thing was what we were going to the day after. We wanted to take the energy of that event and bring it home to Silicon Valley.”
Lincroft was joined at the May event by John Hogan of TeenForce and Priya Mistry of the Silicon Valley Children’s Fund. Hogan and Mistry will serve as co-chairs at February’s Silicon Valley Hack Foster Care summit.
“We know that Silicon Valley is where technology and innovation live,” Mistry said. “We also know that we have a broken child welfare system. [The hackathon] is about how we can come together to fix it.”
According to Mistry, organizers had to identify pain points within the foster care system to give the February hackathon focus.
“We came up with our three pillars: improving access to technology by providing laptops and Internet access to foster youth, reforming the foster care system and technology infrastructure, and preparing foster youth for college and careers,” Mistry said.
“We can’t place everything on the shoulders of social services, because if we don’t give them the tools, then we’re giving them some of the biggest challenges our community faces,” Mistry added. “It has to be the whole community coming together.”
According to a press release for the event, companies that will participate in the Silicon Valley summit include Symantec, SanDisk, Box, Microsoft, Google, Salesforce and Adobe. Summit organizers are seeking additional local companies to work with and join in on the effort.
Jason Bryant wears many hats. He’s a technology entrepreneur and the founder of Nor1, but he’s also a former foster youth and sits on the board of directors of the California Youth Connection. He’s looking for February’s event to create lasting engagement between the valley’s nonprofit and for-profit communities, including the financial sector, around foster care reform.
“There’s nowhere else in the world that’s as uniquely positioned as Silicon Valley to play a really positive role in getting real transformation,” Bryant said. “It’s a matter of finding a way to harness that skill set and passion to do it in such a way that is organized and sustainable.”
Bryant hopes that the momentum created by the Silicon Valley summit will carry far beyond the “day after.”
“I don’t want it to be just a brainstorming session,” Bryant said. “I want it to lead to something like LinkedIn taking on a sponsorship of a particular project, or a host of engineers banding together to create a big data tool.”
Former foster youth and technology entrepreneur Sixto Cancel was one of the chief organizers of the May White House hackathon, and is playing a role in all of the other similar events going on around the country, including Silicon Valley.
“Before May, there wasn’t as much of a national conversation around technology and foster care as there is now,” Cancel said. “Now, there are hackathons being planned in different cities around the United States.”
Cancel hopes that whatever comes out of February’s event, it helps to bridge the divide between the child welfare system and tech.
“Technology and humans go together,” Cancel said. “In our field, because we’re so outdated, technology can really have concrete implications on children’s lives.”