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New company using KU-backed software to match children, families

Thursday, June 26, 2014

LAWRENCE — A new startup company is working to match children with foster families, with some assistance from the University of Kansas.

Foster Care Technologies LLC has developed a web-based tool that assists child welfare staff locate the best possible family match for a child in need of a foster care placement. The tool, called Every Child a Priority (ECAP), combines advanced statistical analysis and technology to match foster children with families that are more likely to meet their particular needs. The goal is to create better, stronger matches that benefit children and families while also lowering costs for child welfare organizations.

“Essentially, ECAP is an enhanced matchmaking service for children and families,” said Mike Patrick, chief executive officer of Topeka nonprofit TFI Family Services Inc., which created ECAP. “It’s an evidence-based tool designed to create matches that benefit children and families alike. We’re optimistic it can change the way foster care organizations nationally do their matching.”

Foster Care Technologies is a joint creation of TFI Family Services and the Bioscience & Technology Business Center at KU. The new company was born when TFI approached the BTBC for assistance in commercializing ECAP, at which point the BTBC proposed jointly creating the new company as a vehicle to market and sell the tool.

Foster Care Technologies has two employees, both based in Lawrence, and will look to add a third in the coming weeks. The company will be jointly managed by TFI and the BTBC.

In addition to partnering with the BTBC, TFI has been working with the KU School of Social Welfare. As part of their development of the ECAP tool, about two years ago TFI asked School of Social Welfare researchers Terry Moore and Tom McDonald to validate the product. Specifically, Moore and McDonald were asked to rigorously test the Appropriate Placement Level Indicator (APLI), a child assessment tool created by TFI as a key part of the ECAP system.

Moore and McDonald examined nearly 2,300 foster care placements spanning August 2010 to April 2012 and found the APLI to be a valid indicator. More broadly, they found ECAP increased placement stability by 23 percent and reduced average time of placement by two months.

“Placement stability is a crucial measure,” said Moore, who is working to publish his assessment of ECAP in an academic journal. “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.”

Mike Smithyman, operations director for the BTBC, said the creation of this new company is a perfect illustration of how unique the BTBC at KU is.

“You have an industry leader like TFI creating a new product, bringing it to KU researchers for rigorous external validation, and then working with the BTBC to commercialize it by jointly creating a company,” Smithyman said. “All the pieces are here in one place. This is a tremendous example of why the BTBC at KU is such a powerful model for creating new companies, growing existing companies and getting new products to market.”

Moving forward, Foster Care Technologies will focus on improving ECAP and selling licensing agreements to child-placing agencies across the country.

“There is great potential for this product,” said Patrick, who himself has a master's degree in social work from KU. “More importantly, there’s great potential for making a difference in the lives of foster children.”

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