By Kimberly Mann Bruch
According to the Colorado Child Abuse and Neglect Public Awareness Campaign, an average of ten youths enter the foster care system each day in Colorado. Many are placed in group settings due to a lack of individual families able to care for them. West Big Data Innovation Hub writer Kim Bruch recently had the chance to speak with Natasha Pepperl and Emmy Tither from Just As Special, an advocacy group in Colorado, to learn how they are using “big data” to assist current foster parents in the state as well as encourage others to help with their cause in hosting children who need a home.
"We are thrilled to feature the work being pursued by Just As Special, an organization that is utilizing data to meet pressing needs in their community—and whose model could be useful to similar organizations across the region,” said West Big Data Innovation Hub Executive Director Ashley Atkins.
KB: What exactly is the mission of Just As Special:
JAS: Our primary mission is to create a better tomorrow for kids in foster care by educating people on diverse perspectives of foster care.
KB: Is there another group that plays a role with Just As Special?
JAS: We often work closely with an organization called Cobbled Streets, whose team also works to help foster families have easy access to resources that support them. Both of our groups want to make it easier for people to get involved by volunteering or donating. Specifically, Cobbled Streets provides opportunities and experiences for youth in care while promoting healthy relationships with adults. These opportunities take many forms – art, sports, equine therapy, storytelling, and more. They also provide customized support, activities, and information to foster parents. In its first year, Cobbled Streets provided group and individual activities for 309 kids in foster care; support and brief respite opportunities for 169 foster parents; and meals and necessities for 195 unhoused youth.
KB: How are you using “big data” to accomplish this?
JAS: While Cobbled Streets focuses more on programming and advocacy for child welfare, we at Just As Special focus on a helpful podcast aimed at creating more awareness about this national crisis. As for our use of “big data”, we recently developed a database, in partnership with Cobbled Streets, that includes more than 250 entries - featuring an array of helpful resources geared toward current foster parents and caregivers. The metadata ranges from specialized healthcare providers to places that provide free clothing for children in foster care. Our overall database can be sorted by location with a user-friendly map or by a list, which was also developed with a friendly user interface.
KB: What exactly do you mean by a “friendly user interface”?
JAS: Most foster parents do not have a great deal of free time, so we wanted to make our database as easy as possible for them. We even created a “how-to” video to quickly watch before searching the database for their specific needs.
KB: What’s next for your use of “big data”?
JAS: We would really like to use our resources as a model for similar organizations and are happy to partner - we appreciate West Hub helping us get the word out about not only our use of data, but also the critical need for people to consider being foster parents. We are hoping that our resource database model could expand nationally, to all states, allowing the foster care community across the United States to benefit from freely accessible information. We know this is a big goal and we are looking to connect with others, volunteers and organizations, who are interested in partnering with us to achieve this. People can sign up to volunteer with us! We are looking for volunteers who can help us with the database and marketing. We all work virtually and volunteers are welcome from across the U.S. and internationally. People can also donate to keep the database up and running. We offer sponsorship and partnership opportunities, too.
KB: What are the requirements to become a foster parent and what if the person doesn’t live in Colorado - do you have information for other states as well?
JAS: We recommend reaching out to your local foster care agency or Department of Human Services as the process and requirements can vary slightly from state to state. However, the main requirements are that you are at least 21 years of age and financially stable. You do not have to be married or own your home. You will be required to go through a background check, foster parenting training, and home study process before becoming certified. We recommend people who are interested in learning more about becoming a foster parent listen to our podcast or check out our blog. Regardless of someone's location, the first step is often some internal and external preparation. Specifically, we recommend the following articles, all available on our blog: First Steps to Getting Involved with Foster Care (in Big or Small Ways), How can I become a foster parent?, How can I prepare myself to become a foster parent? (External Things), and How can I prepare myself to become a foster parent? (Internal Things).