Our Opinion: Needed techology upgrade for foster care system

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The shortcomings of the state foster care system are deep-rooted and difficult to address in large part because foster care is not on the public's radar. Massachusetts, a state that likes to pride itself on its technological savvy, has contributed to problems by failing to construct a database and communications link that meets the needs of social workers, parents and children within the system.

This week, the Baker administration will begin instituting technological upgrades that should improve communications with foster parents and enhance placement efforts. The first step, according to the Boston Globe, is a new intranet system that will allow foster families to communicate directly and securely with the state's child welfare agency, the Department of Children and Families.

The Globe has done stories recently about DCF social workers driving through the night with children in tow while supervisors searched for available foster homes. This situation was a result of the state's failure to establish a real-time database of open foster homes. By November, the DCF expects to have in place an after-hours hotline database that will enable social workers to quickly find open homes and transport children to them.

On Monday, DCF sent out emails to about 4,700 Massachusetts foster families about the new intranet system, which is called FosterMA Connect. Foster parents will be able to create electronic profiles and contact other families about medical and other information required as children move among foster homes. The families will also be able to download forms, such as reimbursements for driving children to doctor's appointments, and learn about changes to DCF policies in a timely fashion. The department's 29 offices may interpret complex regulations in different ways, and it is hoped that the intranet system will introduce needed uniformity to the foster care system. The DCF also plans to institute a system enabling people to report suspected cases of child abuse and neglect in foster homes.

Foster children face significant challenges in integrating themselves within school systems and within a community in general. They, and the families that take them in, deserve all the help they can get from the state and from taxpayers, and the upgraded technological system has the potential to provide that help in ways that are long overdue.

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