For a few years now, I’ve wanted to develop a better Lifebook for kids in foster care. In case you aren’t familiar with the term, a Lifebook is similar to a scrap-book–a book of pictures and momentos of childhood. When I finished college and officially moved away from my childhood home, my mother one day handed me a cream-colored scrap-book filled with pictures and items marking significant events in my childhood. It included important things like immunization records and report cards and a collection of pictures of my childhood, some serious, some not so much. I could retrace my formative years by going through the book. This is a luxury many children in foster care do not have, leaving them with a void as they transition to adulthood.
For kids in foster care, this is often referred to as a Lifebook. The idea is that children would take this with them where-ever they went, regardless of placement or family situation. While it is considered best practice for caseworkers to keep this history for the kids on their caseloads, sadly, it rarely happens. If a kid is lucky, the important things such as medical and school records will be maintained in an ‘official’ case file at the child welfare agency office. This is mandated, but does not always happen. Hence, when a kid moves from one foster home to another or one school district or another, this information often has to be reconstructed by the new foster parent/school/medical professional. In some cases, it can mean delays in starting school while a new school district attempts to obtain necessary documentation. In other cases, the consequences are more serious. I saw the potential danger for one child when evaluating a state child welfare system. The foster parent had been given incorrect information about the dosage of a medication by the previous foster parent. The 6-year-old child was taking a dosage of anti-seizure medication that was three times that recommended for adults. Fortunately, the foster parent questioned a pharmacist about it and caught the error before the child suffered serious consequences.
With the advances in technology, I’ve long thought there should be a ‘digital Lifebook’ for kids in foster care. This way, the child could access it without having to carry around a physical scrap-book. Ideally it would be accessible through the web and have multiple layers of security and access to ensure the information was safe and secure.
I recently learned that there was someone doing something even better than my idea. I was introduced to Joanne Lang at About One through a mutual colleague. She took the digital concept further to create a mobile version of the Life Book, which she calls the Communication Station. Actually, she is still working on the development but has the basic concept down with her About One ‘family organizer’. She is now in the process of customizing it for kids in foster care.
The Communication Station includes everything that a person could want in a mobile Lifebook. Information can be easily saved and categorized. It is secure and can be customized to allow multiple levels of sharing and access. It is stored ‘in the cloud’ so a person can access it from almost anywhere. The Communication Station could include items such as pictures of siblings (who are often separated in foster care), their school and medical records, and histories of where and with whom they have lived. The Communication Station could be invaluable to children/youth as they move through the child welfare system and as they become young adults. It could be used in filling out job and college applications, a task that is often difficult or impossible for youth who have been shuffled through the child welfare system.
Another (incredibly cool) feature includes the ability to earn digital ‘badges‘ for activities such as uploading school grades or other important information. (Mozilla’s Open Badge project provides more information on this ground-breaking concept.) These ‘badges’ might be exchanged for perks such as free school supplies or a reduced payment on a cell phone bill. A world-renowned gamer, Richard Garriott de Cayeux, recently agreed to serve as a mentor in the development of these features.
Of course, I would take it even further and link it to the National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD) efforts to collect data on children and youth after they leave the child welfare system. A young adult could opt to allow the state child welfare agency to access specific information included in NYTD, such as employment status and educational activities. Being a bit of a data geek and a self-proclaimed researcher wannabe, I think this could vastly improve our ability to improve outcomes for young people involved in child welfare systems, in addition to making the NYTD data collection much easier.
When I spoke with Joanne about the Communication, I was impressed with her desire to ‘do this right’. One of the things she said to me in that first conversation (and in subsequent exchanges) is that she wants this product to be accessible to ALL kids in foster care. And she wants it to be available at little or no cost to foster parents or the children/youth. Hence she is seeking contributions to cover the cost of development.
My request to you is that you consider donating to this incredible project. Your contribution will help to ‘save a childhood’ for not just a few, but potentially hundreds of thousands of kids in foster care. You can learn more about the Communication Station and donate at the Indiegogo crowdsource funding website.
This is your opportunity to Save A Childhood!
PS….you can make a donation in someone else’s name. What a great gift idea for that ‘person who has everything’!