When it comes to relationships, chemistry is more of a gut feeling than an exact science.
Still, wouldn’t it be nice to have some data measuring how compatible you are with someone before you agree to spend the rest of your life with them?
Two adoption-focused nonprofits certainly feel that way, and both organizations believe technology can help them make connections between foster children and adoptive families that will stand the test of time.
The FamiliesFirst Network of Lakeview Center is partnering with a nonprofit called the Selfless Love Foundation to roll out a pilot program called Family-Match. Family-Match uses data analytics and predictive models to help case workers make recommendations on which waiting children and approved families are the best match for each other.
“This system gives you some evidence-informed information on what is likely to be a good match,” said Jenn Petion, director of administration and external affairs. “It’s not going to replace a case worker’s best judgement, but it is going to give them another tool.”
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The algorithms under the hood of Family-Match were developed with assistance from data scientist Gian Gonzaga, the former lead researcher at eHarmony and a contributor to Netflix’s predictive software.
The program uses questionnaires to match up adoptive families and children by asking them to honestly answer questions about their temperament, organization-level, motivation and more.
Elizabeth Wynter, executive director of the Selfless Love Foundation, said the Family-Match technology is built to sort, identify and quantify “what will disrupt an adoption family, and what is really important.”
Children wind up in the foster care system because of abuse, neglect or exploitation, and they often have physical, emotional or behavioral trauma that can affect their future family life.
A child coming from a chaotic home might rebel in a house built around rigid structure and routine, but thrive with a family that is a bit more relaxed and improvisational. Likewise, a parent who is “talker” or a “hugger” might feel rejected by a child who is quiet or withdrawn, but bond with a child who is boisterous and outgoing.
“We know that in our heads, but now we have data to back that up,” Wynter said.
She added that questionnaires are written in such a way that no answer reads as “good” or “bad,” encouraging prospective parents to be honest in their assessments of themselves.
Children’s questionnaires are filled out by their case worker, but they can be completed with assistance by family members, family friends or even the children themselves. Wynter said because Family-Match is designed to delve into a person’s core traits, the assessments are applicable to even young children.
Petion said a big benefit of the matching software is that it would widen the pool of potential adoptive parents.
She said in the area between Escambia and Walton counties, there are about 100 children needing adoptive homes and 100 approved families. While that math works out on the surface, Petion said families should ideally outnumber kids three-to-one to give good odds of finding the best possible pairing for every child.
All told, 18 of the 20 judicial/Department of Children and Families circuits in Florida will be participating in the program.
“We might find there are no matches for a child in this area, but there is a family that’s a perfect fit for them in Orlando,” Petion said.
She added that data could often sway families to consider adopting kids who fall outside the “age 0-5 and white” range people typically request.
FFN and Selfless Love will be conducting long-term monitoring of the program, as well as charting the success and permanency of matches made through the system and adjusting questions and practices based on results.
Family-Match is live for families now at selflesslovefoundation.org/family-match, however local families interested in adopting should first contact FFN at 850-426-9565 to start the process of being approved to adopt.
“In my more than 10 years in child welfare, this is probably the thing I’m most excited about,” Petion said of Family-Match.