What if our foster youth knew, with certainty, they could get a job after they completed school? What if they could curate their own network of trusted advisors to reach out to in times of need? What if the process to become a foster parent were fast and painless? What if child-welfare agencies could implement new technologies quickly?
Answering these questions is exactly what we’re doing at the Silicon Valley Hack Foster Care Summit in Mountain View this week.
We’re working to solve some of the biggest problems our youth, social workers and foster parents are facing today. This is not your normal conference. This is a design summit focused on solving complex problems by bringing together the best talent that Silicon Valley has to offer.
Remaking the System
The foster care system was designed by people. Each procedure and rule of the system was chosen. What that means is that these systems aren’t set in stone. We have the opportunity to choose differently and fix the things that aren’t working.
For the past five years DC Design has worked with marginalized communities around the world to teach, consult, and help design solutions to the complex problems they face. Our role in the design and leadership of the Silicon Valley Hack Foster Care Summit is to make sure human-centered design is the basis for the new choices we make.
Human-centered design, also known as design thinking, is a way of approaching problems that focuses on understanding the needs of the people who actually experience them. Their voices should be the loudest in teaching us all what the real challenges are and what changes we need to make. At the Hack Foster Care Summit, youth voices are amplified. Their experiences are the basis for our understanding of the real problems that exist. The stories they tell of the challenges they face, offer the best clues for how to solve them.
Where Do We Start?
We start by listening to the youth. There are over 55 foster youth involved in this summit, and each one is the champion of a specific problem they’ve experienced. In small teams dedicated to answering design questions like “How might we produce better outcomes for youth when they go before a judge?” Judges, attorneys, social workers, foster parents, and technologists listen as youth tell them about times when court rulings were positive or negative. They give details about times when they were able to advocate on their own behalf and other times when they felt like their fate was decided for them.
Within these stories are the suggestions of what needs to change to produce better outcomes. Based on what the teams hear, they formulate new ideas and propose tech and legal solutions to test during the summit. They carry out tests in the form of storyboards, role-plays, and the use of other design techniques to see which ideas have merit before they try them out in the real world. And this is what’s so powerful.
In our work at DC Design, we’ve seen that to solve problems, we need to involve the people who can fix them. That’s what makes the Silicon Valley Hack Foster Care Summit so special. We built teams composed of the people who best understand the problem and those in the best position to implement change.
Legal hacks involve lawyers and judges, youth and parents. Jobs hacks involve employers and trade organization leaders, youth and technologists; everyone contributing their unique skillset to overcoming the challenges at hand. And, this is what we need to succeed in our ultimate goal of redesigning the foster care system.
We need the skills and input from those who can change systems. We need the stories and ideas from foster youth, foster parents, and social workers. And we need you. We need you and whatever unique perspective and skillset you can bring to the table because the truth is, we’re all in this together.
Durell Coleman is founder & CEO of DC Design.