“One Hundred and Ninety-Four Got Licensed by Monday”: Application of Design Thinking for Foster Care Innovation and Transformation in Rhode Island

By Johanna K.P. Greeson John GyourkoAndrew J. Ortiz Durell ColemanSixto Cancel
Children and Youth Services Review
September2021 Vol. 128

The American child welfare system is in crisis. Given its history, the beleaguered state of the system evokes little surprise. There is an urgent need for new and creative approaches to problem-solving and transformation in child welfare. Design Thinking, a change management framework that prioritizes deep empathy for end user needs is one such approach, holding promise for helping child welfare systems transform to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Like many states, Rhode Island has long struggled to effectively recruit, license, and retain an adequate pool of resource families. From 2012 to 2017, Rhode Island saw a 12 % drop in statewide resource home capacity, measured as the number of beds available in licensed non-relative foster family homes. Over the same five-year period, the total number of children in Rhode Island’s foster care system increased by 7%. This growing discrepancy between placement demand versus available placement resources in the state led to a serious over-reliance on congregate care placements. We utilize a single descriptive case study framework to explore the application of Design Thinking processes to improve foster parent recruitment and licensing in Rhode Island. We interviewed three respondents who worked on the redesign of Rhode Island’s foster parent recruitment and licensing processes. Results from the effort suggest that Design Thinking can facilitate child welfare system change and effectively address the “pain points” of the people for whom solutions are designed.