Microsoft at the White House Foster Care and Technology Hackathon

Hi all, I am so proud to be a member of the Microsoft hacking team at this year’s White House Foster Care and Technology Hackathon! Here is a brief statement about our involvement in such a wonderful cause:

The Microsoft team is honored and excited to participate in this year’s White House Foster Care and Technology Hackathon on May 26th-May 27th. It is a wonderful opportunity for top technical talent across different industries to work together in collaboration with the White House, the Dept of Health and Human Services, Annie E. Casey Foundation, and Think of Us, with the goal of improving the US foster care system and outcomes for children and families who experience care.

The hackathon participants are tackling the biggest problems in the foster care system including topics such as empowering foster youth and alum with decision-making abilities, getting more innovative technology into child welfare agencies, and preventing homelessness and unplanned pregnancy for youth.

Another huge area of concern in the foster care system is that of substance exposed infants and children. Each year, nearly 440,000 infants are affected by prenatal alcohol or illicit drug exposure. Oftentimes, the mothers of these children who are battling substance abuse struggle with seeking care and treatment for themselves and the children. Many of these mothers are young and do not have the support system that they need to get advice and help to both overcome their additions, and take care for their children. Even if they have the inclination to get help, where do they start? And how can they do this without being stigmatized?

The Microsoft hacking team is looking to create a streamlined process by which mothers can access the resources they need, and easily ask for help.

Mothers with addiction problems often struggle to keep their addiction and pregnancy secret, and are therefore hesitant to seek the help they and their children so desperately need. The solution must take this sensitivity into account. Locating relevant information about available resources is another problem. It must aggregate resources into a single place that is simple and easy to use but also non-judgmental.

The team seeks to create a marketplace for social services that will be useful to the mothers in need. Rather than solely aggregate data, the marketplace will include a recommendation system based on the anonymous inputs of the users’ needs, backed by a rating system that is commonly seen online. Influenced by the ratings systems of websites like Yelp, the team seeks to create an atmosphere that younger generations are used to by allowing them to anonymously rate the services they used, and benefit from the feedback of others.

The team is made up of Program Manager, Yossi Banai, and Technical Evangelists Paul DeCarlo, Mostafa Elzoghbi, Stacey Mulcahy, and Heather Shapiro with wonderful advisory from Scott Hanselman. Several members of the team have been personally touched or affected by the problem of pregnant and parenting mothers dealing with substance abuse and are passionate about improving the current situation for struggling mothers and their children. They will continue their efforts after the hackathon by maintaining the resources and programs created.

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