Earlier this month, I wrote a story about how Los Angeles County was considering using ridesharing services like Uber to improve “family visitation.”
The problem in L.A. and across the country is that it is hard to transport children and their parents to court-ordered visits.
My back-of-the-envelope math suggested that if every L.A. foster child were to be afforded one hour of visits a week – way less than court guidelines – that would equal 105 years of visits every year. Yes, a century of visits every year.
Despite the enormous logistical challenge, these visits are critical for maintaining family bonds while the child protection system decides whether or not it is safe for a child to return home.
Shortly after my story was published, I received an email from Teri Kook. Kook ran the child welfare division of the San Francisco-based Stuart Foundation for years.
“Saw your article on Uber and visitation in Los Angeles,” she wrote. “We have actually done a small pilot on that here in Spokane with good results on getting parents to make it to their visits.”
A couple months ago Kook moved to that northeastern Washington town to take over as executive director of the Family Impact Network, or FIN for short. In 2012, the Washington Stage Legislature enacted a bill establishing performance-based contracting. FIN was chosen to be the Network Administrator for the private agencies in eastern Washington working with the state’s foster care system.
One of the first things Kook noticed was that the state was spending $17 million a year on family visitation. In her new home base of Spokane the foster care system was spending $15,000 a month on canceled and missed visits. Beyond the money, children were waiting up to three weeks to have frequent and consistent visits with their parents.
So Kook and her colleagues at FIN cooked up the idea to use Uber for Business to get parents to and from visits with their children. They partnered with the Salvation Army and distributed a flyer offering rides starting in October 2015.
By the end of the six-month pilot, 25 parents took 427 rides over a total of 2,347 miles at a cost of roughly $4,000.
More importantly, as the percentage of parents using Uber rose, the no show rate declined. The rate of missed visits for the pilot group was reduced by 25 percent.
In an internal write-up of the pilot, FIN staff included feedback from participants.
“It helped me all the way,” one parent said. “I am very busy with appointments and meetings and I would have to try to get the bus or call a friend. With treatment it was kind of hard to do all of that.”
Kook says that she and her team are now considering next steps for the program.
“The Children’s Administration has recently approved a two-year pilot project with Family Impact Network that will include a component to test ideas that support parents engagement and attendance at visitation,” she said in an email. “We are eager to continue to innovate and learn how to support children and parents and to enhance this precious family time.”
She also supports Los Angeles’ burgeoning interest in using ridesharing to improve family visitation.
“Kudos to L.A. for removing barriers for kids and parents being together,” she said. “From a trauma perspective, the more we can keep the family bond intact, that’s terrific. And if that also reduces hardships for foster parents, it sounds like they are going for a triple win.”