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White House Foster Care Hack-a-thon and Technology Conference

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Walter S. Johnson Foundation is a Northern California foundation focused on improving the life outcomes for transition age youth, particularly those impacted by the foster care system.  On May 26-27, 2016, at the first-ever White House Foster Care Hack-a-thon and Technology Conference, the Walter S. Johnson Foundation invited noted technology leader, Carl Guardino, CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, to join the foundation in announcing the "Free Laptop" Campaign.  The goal of this public/private campaign is to distribute an estimate 10,000 laptop to every foster youth in California in three years.  Read his remarks below:

On May 27, 2016, I had the honor of addressing foster youth, child welfare leaders and top-level government officials at the first ever White House Foster Youth Hackathon.

I was there to tell them about what foster youth here in Silicon Valley face, and share my personal commitment to them.  

Every day in Santa Clara County, 1,440 kids in our foster care system endure another day without a permanent placement. 

True confession; I'm motivated for entirely selfish reasons. My wife Leslee and I want to personally lower that number of 1,440 to 1,339. 

Officially, I am the CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group - an association of 405 Innovation Economy employers. 

Silicon Valley is an interesting place. Within a one-block walk of Adobe Systems global headquarters, (and a few hundred yards of the Stanley Cup-bound San Jose Sharks), is the Santa Clara County Department of Family and Children's Services. 

We're a valley of great wealth and great need; of unlimited opportunity and unbelievable poverty; of game changing innovation and old school filing systems.

We need a systems change of reform and revolution. Allow me to provide a first-hand perspective. 

Six months ago Leslee and I, along with our 11-year old daughter Jessica and 7-year old daughter Siena - made the family decision to enter into our County's outstanding but incredibly impacted Foster-Adopt Program.  

Our 11-year old Jessica was born the old-fashioned way: a married couple who are really attracted to each other. Siena joined our family at one-day old, from a small town in Utah. Born to a wonderful, brave 17-year old Latina mom who already had a two-year old at home. She loved Siena so much that she entrusted her to our family.

Fast forward. Six months ago, Leslee and I began our Foster-Adopt process, our paper work is almost complete. I use that term intentionally, "Paperwork."

From our first orientation to our final home visit and evaluation, the process has been a paper-trail, with pages and pages of applications completed by pen; and three rounds of intense, multi-hour interviews all captured, not on a tablet or with a speech recognition technology, but written in long-hand.

While every caseworker we have come across has been exceedingly kind, caring and professional, they have been locked out or priced out from the tools they need to more accurately and efficiently do their important work.

Technology is a tool that can help re-build families and raise up foster youth more quickly.

I'm honored to be a part of a new California Campaign lead by our foundation partners at Walter S Johnson Foundation and Foster Care Counts, to provide a lap-top for every foster youth - ages 16 to 21 - in California. As a study from the nonprofit iFoster released last week shows, 9 out of 10 U.S. teens have access to a computer. For foster youth, it's barely 2 in 10.  The same study found that having a laptop increased grades and attendance, self-esteem and life satisfaction, while reducing depression.

Lap-tops aren't a panacea to complex problems; but access to technology is a powerful path forward. 

There have already been support for foster youth issues by Silicon Valley tech leaders including: Adobe and Box, Bank of America and Comcast, Deloitte and Google, HP Enterprise and Intuitive Surgical, Microsoft and Oracle, Salesforce and SanDisk, Symantec and TI, Tech CU and Western Digital.

These companies are playing a leading role in: 1) How we can leverage technology to assist our cash-strapped social service providers; 2) How we can provide computers to our kids; and 3) partnering with our non-profits like TeenForce and Silicon Valley Children's Fund to provide jobs educational support and STEM internships to our kids in High School.

There are more than 50,000 foster youth in California, and more than 400,000 across the U.S. It would be easy to feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of our mission.

Stanislau Lec once said, "No snowflake in an avalanche ever felt responsible."  The fact is, when it comes to lifting up our foster youth, we are all responsible, and we all have a roll to play.


Carl Guardiano is the CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.  For more information, see the White House Fact Sheet "First Ever White House Foster Care & Technology Hackathon" or go to

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