“Not since the Web itself has a technology promised broader and more fundamental revolution than blockchain technology.” — Hyperledger project
Blockchain technology could significantly improve the foster care system. Blockchain itself is a confusing topic, but there are two specific ways in which this technology could improve foster care: trusted identity and smart contracts.
My intent for this discussion is to examine how these two ideas can and should be used in foster care.
Before I dive into this discussion, let me first briefly explain what the blockchain is. I recommend reading the Blockchain Metaphor for a more detailed explanation.
Blockchain is like DNA
“DNA is kind of like a blockchain — a memory of all the species that have come before.” — Reese Jones, Singularity University
Robin Chauhan provides an excellent metaphor for blockchain in The Bitcoin blockchain/DNA metaphor. My intent here is to build on this metaphor for a quick understanding of the blockchain.
DNA is the code for all of life and serves as a replicated data storage. It contains our biological instructions and can be traced to a beginning. DNA is made of building blocks called nucleotides, which are made of the parts forming a strand of DNA. During DNA replication, DNA unwinds and is copied. The instructions within DNA that survive spread and evolve over time.
The blockchain is like DNA in that it is a replicated data storage, where it stores records of information bundled together forming blocks in a chain. Similar to DNA, the blockchain is made of building blocks containing information forming a chain. The information within the blockchain spread across the internet, just as instructions within DNA spread across the planet. However, rogue nodes failing a test will not spread. Similar to DNA, the blockchain can be traced to a beginning.
Let’s now examine the two ways we can use blockchain technology to improve foster care.
Trusted Identity — Blockchain Identity Card
I will begin this discussion by challenging an assumption using the cause and effect line of thinking: IF-AND-THEN.
IF = Cause
AND = Necessary Condition, Correlation, Connection, or the Why?
THEN = Effect
Let’s examine the following assumption: In its current form, the foster care system is keeping children safe.
For this assumption to be correct, then children in the system must be safe. However, this does not seem to be the case.
So, why are children in the system not safe?
Let’s continue with this line of thinking.
If children are not safe in foster care, then we must ensure children start interacting with people in a safe environment.
What’s missing from this statement? As identified in Figure 4, we can fill in the missing gap with: If children are not safe in foster care — And are placed in danger by the same people who should be protecting them — Then we must ensure children interact with people in a safe environment.
But why are children placed in danger by the same people who should be protecting them?
If children are placed in danger by the same people who should be protecting them — And we are allowing people with criminal records (or those with bad intentions) to care for them or interact with them — Then we must thoroughly screen the identity of people who interact with them.
So, what’s the solution?
Solution = use blockchain technology to verify the identity of anyone tasked to care for a foster child.
Application — Trusted Identity
So, how can we apply trusted identity in foster care? First, I recommend watching the following short video by IBMBlockchain under the title Digital identity management how much of your personal information do you control?
As discussed in the video, we have multiple forms of identification. We also identify ourselves in many different ways, such as our name, address, age, profession, etc.
We possess many forms of identification, which leads to multiple ways for someone to steal our identity or for someone to lie about their identity. This leads to people hiding information about who they really are.
Blockchain technology is built on a decentralized network, where there is no central control or central point of failure. If someone was attempting to manipulate the system (i.e. a convicted sex offender applying to be a foster parent), they would find that blockchain technology ensures the system knows their exact digital identity; therefore, they would never be allowed to foster.
If we were to use this technology in foster care, we could build a community of trusted individuals. This could be used to prevent the wrong people from becoming foster parents, social workers, contracted employees, etc.
It could also be used to prevent social workers and law enforcement from placing a child back with parents who are convicted sex offenders. There are currently too many ways for the wrong person to slip through the cracks. Let’s look at a couple of examples.
The child who was fed to pigs. In this horrifying and tragic story, 7-year old Adrian Jones was tortured, murdered, and then fed to pigs by his father and stepmother.
Law enforcement and social workers were aware of problems within the family. In fact, Adrian’s stepmother even discussed them on Facebook. However, his father and stepmother stopped communicating with authorities and simply used the Kansas-Missouri border as a way to keep authorities at a distance. All they had to do was move back and forth across state lines in the Kansas City area.
Former Kansas DCF Secretary, Phyllis Gilmore, stated that they had contact with the family, but said the family’s frequently alternating residency between Kansas and Missouri greatly disrupted continuity.
Another example is the U.S. Army’s Failure Allowed Convicted Military Pimp to be a Foster Parent. According to a Newsweek report, the Lighthouse Family Network (a Texas-based Christian foster care agency) allowed a convicted felon and his wife to serve as foster parents for three months before the agency discovered the conviction and de-listed the couple.
This was after investigators uncovered Gregory McQueen’s pimping operation in 2015, where he pleaded guilty to numerous counts of conspiracy to solicit prostitution and mistreatment of a subordinate.
The foster care system could eliminate these issues by using blockchain technology. This would eliminate the need to check multiple systems individually. It would also eliminate the need to screen multiple forms of identity to simply verify if a person is a convicted felon or sex offender.
A person’s identity would become a bundle of records within a block. For the block to spread (or link to a chain), it would have to pass a test and be accepted by the network (or allowed to be a foster parent).
For example, let’ say a convicted sex offender applies to be a foster parent. His or her identity (and history) is a bundle of records in a block. He or she would have to pass a test called a Proof of Work test to continue with their application. Their block would contain a unique code called a hash. To connect the block to the chain (allowing it to spread), the hash would have to match the hash of the previous block.
However, to accept the block as legitimate, the hash codes must match. Essentially, the hash code allows us to verify the identity of a person. In this case, we could easily verify the person is a convicted sex offender.
For this person to change his or her record, they would need to change the hash to manipulate the record or create a new identity. Yet, if they attempt to change the hash (i.e. manipulate their record) they will break the chain (which is nearly impossible to do) and alert others of the break.
“Well it does what the internet has been unable to do, provide a platform for peer-to-peer value exchanges.” — Don Tapscott
Similar to how we examined trusted identity, let’s now examine smart contracts in foster care.
If children are not safe in foster care — And we want foster children to be properly cared for — Then we must make sure those tasked with caring for them are placing them in a safe environment.
But why are children not being properly cared for?
If children are to be properly cared for — And we want foster parents or social workers or contracted employees to properly care for them — Then we must make sure incentive’s and contracts are drafted and executed in a way that serves the best interest of a child.
What’s the solution here?
Application — Smart Contracts in Foster Care
Let’s now examine how to apply smart contracts in foster care.
The authors of Smart Contracts: The Blockchain Technology that will Replace Lawyers provide a good explanation of smart contracts. They describe smart contracts as a way to help exchange money, property shares, or anything of value in a transparent, conflict-free way while providing the services of a middleman (thus, without a middleman). It’s like providing an Uber-like service without Uber. Therefore, there is no middleman taking a percentage of your fee.
Furthermore, they describe a brilliant, yet simple, example of how smart contracts work.
Let’s take a look:
Suppose you rent an apartment from me. You can do this through the blockchain.
You get a receipt which is held in our virtual contract; I give you a digital entry key which comes to you by a specified date.
If the key doesn’t come on time, the blockchain releases a refund.
If I send the key before the rental date, the function holds it releasing both the fee and key to you and me respectively when the date arrives.
The system works on the If-Then premise and is witnessed by hundreds of people, so you can expect a faultless delivery.
If I give you the key, I’m sure to be paid — in whatever form agreed upon (i.e Bitcoin, Ethereum, U.S. Dollars, etc.).
If you send a certain amount, you receive the key.
The document is automatically canceled after the time, and the code cannot be interfered by either of us without the other knowing since all participants are simultaneously altered.
Smart contracts are essentially contracts between parties written in code and exist on a digital ledger.
In Privatized Foster Care: Profit Over Humanity, I discussed the problem of privatized foster care. Blockchain technology could fix problems discussed in my article. For example, smart contracts would allow the contract between parties (i.e. the State of Kansas and a contractor) to be written in code becoming part of a digital ledger.
Similar to the apartment rental example — regarding contracts in foster care, if the contract is signed, then a receipt is held in the virtual contract. Payment would be received ONLY once the terms of the contract are achieved and on specific dates.
A triggering event would cause the contract to be executed according to the terms stored on the digital ledger. For example, once the terms of the contract are reached (i.e. a contractor meets the terms of the contract with the State of Kansas) then the contract is paid according to the coded terms.
What’s important to remember here is that a party cannot change or manipulate the terms after they are agreed upon.
They MUST meet the terms of the contract. If they fail to (i.e. a child is killed by foster parents or the contract expires without meeting the terms) then they (the contractor) does not receive payment. In fact, they might be required to return payment as identified in the contract.
If payment is sent before the contract expiration date, then the blockchain holds it and ONLY releases payment once it verifies terms have been met. Therefore, it is nearly impossible for a contractor to receive payment unless the terms of the contract have been met. Thus, they are incentivized to actually meet the terms of the contract.
If the contract is written in code in a way that accurately incentivizes a contractor to perform in the best interest of a child, then by using blockchain technology, this would force a contractor to perform in the right way.
If they do not perform, they do not get paid.
Finally, just like in the trusted identity discussion, a contractor would never again be allowed to possess a contract of this type. So, if they fail to meet the terms of the contract (not only will they NOT be paid), but they will lose their ability to bid for contracts in the future.
“Smart contracts… guarantee a very, very specific set of outcomes.” — Jeff Garzik, Founder of Dunvegan Space Systems