Edwina “Eddie” Uehara, a University of Washington professor and Steve Ballmer, Endowed Dean in Social Work, are eager to facilitate cultural exchanges. Not exchanges of people of different countries or ethnicities, but of disciplines that can be worlds apart: computer technology and social work.
Recently, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and his wife Connie, donated $20 million to the university’s ‘School of Social Work’ that will be used for graduate scholarships and various initiatives throughout the school. This brings their total school funding to $32 million over the past five years.
“It’s really this moment when all of us are pivoting toward harnessing what this region is good at,” said Uehara.
Its bringing together the Puget Sound area’s tremendous technology skills, its devoted philanthropists, the academic expertise and community relationships of the UW’s School of Social Work. Each brings its own strengths, with technology’s penchant for innovation, moving quickly and embracing change and the UW’s deep understanding of complicated social issues and trust from the community.
Two projects currently underway highlight this new tech emphasis: One focuses on social media and suicide prevention, and the other is helping child welfare service providers in Washington more easily access information, coordinate care and evaluate their performance.
Earlier this year, the UW announced a partnership with Facebook to develop tools to help both people at risk of suicide and their friends and family. This week, Facebook representatives are returning to campus to meet with people who have lost loved ones to suicide. The goal is for the social media site to better understand the needs of people in this situation and to test tools for assisting them.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people age 15 to 34, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “There’s a lot of potential for good with social media that often doesn’t get talked about,” said Jennifer Stuber, co-founder of Forefront, a suicide prevention organization within the School of Social Work, and one of the leads in the Facebook collaboration.
The other project underway is a child welfare project launched by the UW’s ‘Partners of Our Children’. A $16.5 million program called Oliver, is building software and apps that will help coordinate care and evaluate the effectiveness of services for kids temporarily in foster care and homeless teens.
The foster care app is already being tested in Spokane, and Tacoma providers are going to begin testing this week. The Oliver app will help coordinate court-ordered, supervised visits between kids temporarily living with foster families and their parents. There are 8,500 kids in foster care in Washington, some of whom are meeting with parents two or three times a week.
“There’s a lot of planning that takes place. The visits are monitored by private companies, and there is transportation that is involved and a lot of paperwork,” said Ben de Haan, executive director of Partners for Our Children. The new tool should make the coordination as straightforward as online booking for a flight on Alaska Airlines, where you select routes and choose your seats.
This second project that’s underway is also trying to bring some order to the web of services available to homeless youth. The major challenge is the lack of a central authority managing services for the teens, services that can come from the state, county and city. It’s difficult for anyone to know who is getting which services where.
The Oliver project has support from the Gates Foundation, Connie and Steve Ballmer and others. The goal is to make the project self-sustaining within five years through low-cost user fees. Early analysis shows that the new technology can cut the time spent on paperwork by 40%, freeing those resources for interactions directly with the children and youth.
“Software and new tailor-made software are incredibly expensive and the people using it are working with some of the poorest people in our society,” de Haan said. The nonprofit groups providing the services don’t have the resources to invest in technology that will improve efficiency, so “we’re trying to help folks catch up.”
While the Oliver project has focused on social services for children in Washington, the software should be readily adaptable for other states to use. “Seattle is well known as being a hotbed for technological innovation and the University of Washington is well known for its research,” de Haan said. “It’s only natural that Seattle would come together to use technology to solve social problems. You can see why it would happen here.”
Read Article (Lisa Stiffler | geekwire.com | 09/30/2015)
At the exponential rate that technology is advancing in the 21st century, it is inevitable that there will come a day when even millennials will be unfamiliar with the latest technology.
Instruction in the use of this tailor-made software will be provided to workers. But effective instruction in the use of current devices that connect to the internet, have yet to materialize for millions of Americans.
Help us help them and anyone who would like to upgrade their skill-set, with your support.
Master Level High-Tech Webinars