Digitizing The System for New Foster Parents with the Administration of Children’s Services (ACS).



Project Summary

Our team’s goal is to unfold the tracking system, to contact foster parents by visiting social agencies, and to talk with case workers on challenges they face in the system.

  • Team Size: 3 (Product Designer (me) - UX Researcher - Data Scientist)

  • Client: Administration of Children’s Services, a data challenge partnership with NYC Mayor’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer. The winning team develops their solution, our team won 1st place.

  • February 2017 – May 2017

  • New York City, NY.

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New York City's foster care system has been working steadily to reduce the astounding number of over 40,000 children who were placed under its care in the early 1990's. A digital solution is necessary to create a platform where the foster parent’s registration can be tracked, processed, and recorded effectively.

To set our team up for success, we observed agents at their stations, engaged with individuals to establish empathy, and immersed ourselves in research to see how users interacted in their environments.

The data challenge encouraged teams to evaluate the foster care system since their existing registration system process is still paper-based, and considered in the “dark ages”. Our team developed a platform that improves the overall user experience by creating a connection between foster parents and social workers to the online system.

Our team hacked into the NYC foster care system’s most pressing issues.

Industry leaders came together from NYC’s child welfare sector, the tech industry, government agencies, non-profit organizations, social agents, and professionals who want to build a better future for foster children. 

ACS implemented new tracking and analysis tools to help foster care agencies evaluate and manage progress in foster care cases. The project is facilitated by both companies, Authorea and Paxata. Authorea is an online collaborative writing tool that allows researchers to write, cite, collaborate, host data and publish. It has been described as "Google Docs for Scientists". Paxata is a software company that develops self-service data preparation software that gets data ready for data analytics software. Both companies provided the participating teams with solutions to properly document the research process.


The New York City foster care data challenge is an interdisciplinary and experiential open-ended event to utilize scientific data, design and digital solutions. Our team of three was accepted to join the Administration of Children's Services (ACS). Our team included a UX researcher / product designer (myself), a UX designer, and a data scientist. We delivered a web app dashboard, surveys, and product description documentation.

Our Mission is to solve navigation problems and ease the process of on-boarding foster families online collaborating with The White House Data Challenge.

We collected data by creating a required survey for the user to fill out. By building a two-minute survey, it helped teams from the ACS understand how user problems are identified. We shipped our insights by analyzing data points and gathering insights to present to the client.

The project led to real-life results and was an exhilarating feeling to become part of building something great for the community. Feel free to read more about our work here.

Design Requirements

The on-boarding process is designed to work as a checklist for the user.

  1. The current legacy system faces a huge lack of data. Our team's solution for data aggregation is to establish user engagement with the system.

  2. We created a survey to better understand user requirement.

  3. Our process is a sign up flow that leads to a dashboard that can be personalized and customized based on the user's requirements.

  4. Our team's goal is to improve the way foster families communicate with agencies using online platforms.  

  5. Some of the challenges we faced was the reporting system used in the legacy system and communication setup with local social agents. 

  6. By setting up an online platform, we can reduce the user's stress.

  7. We wanted to ease user's tension by creating a space online for when the user needs to ask questions or set up appointments in lieu of visiting the agency onsite to submit papers, attend info-sessions, or make telephone calls. 

  8. Survey results can teach our team how users are engaging with the product. 

  9. We wanted to understand user-behavior by creating a process that evaluates new or considering-to-be foster parents in the existing system with files that are inherently offline. 

  10. The goal is to recruit and migrate existing users offline and on-board new foster care parents users to sign up online.

Problem Statement & Challenges

  • The New York City Foster Care system has surveyed foster care agencies who've identified the process of finding and on-boarding foster families to be a great challenge.

  • There are just under 10,000 children in the New York City foster care system - many of whom need loving and dedicated foster parents to care for them.

  • The NYC Foster Care Data Challenge encouraged teams to evaluate the foster care system because it is in the “dark ages” with an existing on-boarding process that is paper-based.

Design Strategy Process

Our team followed the UX methodology process and successfully delivered a digital solution.

Our team followed the UX methodology process and successfully delivered a digital solution.

User Research & Caseload data

Social workers are overworked with an offline tiring system, our idea is to ensure ease of use for the product user. We have to understand in detail what agencies experience.

  • How might we use data to create a digital solution to expedite a foster family applicant who is being "scored" by agencies?

  • How can we increase the number of families we can onboard without having to necessarily feed more applicants into the process? (retain new vs recruit members)


User Interview Questions

  • How are you connecting with a social agent?

  • Describe your communications with your social worker?

  • How do you submit your legal documents to the agency?

  • Walk me through the application process.


Foster Parent Empathy Map 

New foster parent living in New York City.

Empathy Map to understand the new user's needs before signing up.

Empathy Map to understand the new user's needs before signing up.

Key Points

  • Rebecca is a busy full-time working professional

  • Almost all her orders are purchased online

  • Lives in Manhattan, NY

  • Age 25 - 40

  • Ready to become a foster parent and make a child's life better with her partner and dog

  • Organized but can be easily overwhelmed by her schedule

  • Has no time during weekdays to take trips to agencies or book meetings

  • Needs access to information online about the registration process

  • The only information out there is through personal blog posts

Product Development Challenges

  1. Inconsistencies in documentation processes.

  2. Developing an efficient strategy with our team to analyze and document useful data.

Outcomes 🏆

  • Our team won 1st place with the opportunity to develop the platform and ship our solutions with investors.

  • Developing the platform for foster families for new members.


Users are on-boarded to sign on the dashboard where they can upload documents for the social agency. 

  • A digital solution that will improve the identification and on-boarding processes for foster parents efficiently and create zero friction.

  • An online platform that would assist foster parents through the on-boarding process while simultaneously collecting data for further matching analysis.

  • For full access to case study providing outcomes and results, feel free to contact me here

Our UI Design Solution: The Foster Parent Dashboard

I designed the on boarding process using Adobe Suite and Invision. Designs are inspired by Google’s Material Design guidelines.

I designed the on boarding process using Adobe Suite and Invision. Designs are inspired by Google’s Material Design guidelines.

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The most important feature in this page is the Progress side bar that indicates where the user goes next in the process, by understanding that the applicant wants to know where they are, shows that as designers we care about their schedules.

On-boarding Users

  1. The user starts by creating a profile

  2. The user fills a required one-time survey

  3. Aggregated data is processed to help create a sustainable foster-family matching process

  4. New users are required to watch an informational video post registration in lieu of attending a community meeting

  5. The user would then schedule a call with a social worker

  6. The user begins a training session that is booked online

  7. The user submits all necessary paperwork as requested by the social worker

  8. The user concludes their training session

  9. The social worker schedules a home visit

  10. The user receives their approval status

  11. Welcome new foster parent!

The Introductory Video is the Most Important Piece of the Puzzle.

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Because users get to sign on and watch everything they need to know about becoming foster parents.


Value Proposition

In order to get buy-in from clients, our team needed to sell agencies in on why creating dashboards in their system gives a birds-eye-view of the process and eliminates the customer’s frustration. Based on survey results, interviews, and usability testing sessions, almost all our users wanted to save time and resources from commuting to in-person meetings to meet a social worker. The target audience and the client both agreed that meetings can be done effectively online. The usual setup to attend an info. session to become a foster parent takes place in community spaces or religious institutions or are conducted elsewhere. The events take place usually through word-of-mouth, which is why the number of children who need love more than ever is astounding.

From the comfort of the user's space, the Foster Parent can sign-up remotely without coming in to the agency and filling out long and tedious forms. The entire introduction process can take place online until the first visit to see the foster family, the child, and the social agent.

We believe that by preparing the family ahead of time to submit documents, ask questions, and fill out the application, we are creating space for these individuals to truly immerse themselves in the context of a loving new family.    


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Our Final Pitch
1st place winners competing against 9 teams.

Above: Our team during the presentation, me presenting the empathy map and why it is important to understand the person who will be using our dashboard.