Event Summary

On Wednesday, AEI hosted presentations from two groups using data tools to revolutionize the way child welfare agencies investigate abuse and neglect and match kids with adoptive parents. These were followed by a panel discussion with all the presenters, moderated by AEI’s Naomi Schaefer Riley.

Thea Ramirez and Gian Gonzaga of Adoption-Share discussed their software, which builds a centralized repository for kids separated from their parents and families interested in adoption. An algorithm then matches children with families and optimizes for the strongest and greatest number of matches.

Rhema Vaithianathan from Auckland University of Technology and Emily Putnam-Hornstein from the University of Southern California subsequently discussed the Allegheny Family Screening Tool, which can be used to screen child protective services calls. The algorithms examine data from various sources to determine the risk level of the child in need.

During the discussion, both groups shared concerns that unconnected databases and resistance to change within child protective services departments may serve as barriers to deployment of their services and innovation in child welfare. Moreover, they emphasized that their technology should fundamentally be used as a tool for social workers rather than a means of replacing their expertise.

— Jessica Schultz

Event Description

Many complain that the world of child welfare is still in the dark ages with communication and technology. Child protective services departments often do not have the data they need to make proper decisions about children’s safety. Parents looking to adopt find that state and county lines are impermeable barriers. Nonprofits that want to help children and families in crisis do not know who needs help and when.

Fortunately, things are starting to change. The big data revolution that has changed baseball, medicine, and other fields has finally come to child welfare. Please join AEI as we hear from experts on the cutting edge of using technology to keep our most vulnerable kids safe and to find loving, permanent homes for those whose parents can no longer care for them.


11:45 AM

12:00 PM
Naomi Schaefer Riley, AEI

12:10 PM
Gian Gonzaga, Adoption-Share
Thea Ramirez, Adoption-Share

12:35 PM
Emily Putnam-Hornstein, University of Southern California
Rhema Vaithianathan, Auckland University of Technology

1:00 PM
Panel discussion

Gian Gonzaga, Adoption-Share
Emily Putnam-Hornstein, University of Southern California
Thea Ramirez, Adoption-Share
Rhema Vaithianathan, Auckland University of Technology

Naomi Schaefer Riley, AEI

1:20 PM

1:30 PM

Event Contact Information

For more information, please contact William Kessler at [email protected], 202.862.7193.

Media Contact Information

For media inquiries or to register a camera crew, please contact [email protected], 202.862.5829

Event Speaker Biographies

Gian Gonzaga is a senior consultant of research and data analytics at Adoption-Share and the director of data science for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. He co-created the first iteration of the Family-Match Assessment, an online tool for matching prospective families and children while predicting successful long-term placements and adoptions. Dr. Gonzaga holds a B.A. in psychology from Gettysburg College and a Ph.D. in social-personality psychology from the University of California, Berkeley.

Emily Putnam-Hornstein is an associate professor of social work in the School of Social Work at the University of Southern California. She directs the Children’s Data Network, a data and research collaborative focused on the linkage and analysis of administrative records. Dr. Putnam-Hornstein is a member of the Data Linkage Committee for California’s Child Welfare Council, the California Vital Statistics Advisory Committee, and the Vital Records Protection Advisory Committee, and she serves as the state-appointed co-chair of the Data and Performance Measurement and Outcomes Work Group.

Thea Ramirez is the founder and CEO of Adoption-Share, a national website designed to bring efficiency and transparency to the adoption process. She was named a “Young Influencer” by Catalyst. Ms. Ramirez has been featured and published on national platforms such as CNN, Christianity Today,, and The Washington Times. She holds a master’s degree in clinical social work.

Naomi Schaefer Riley is a resident fellow at AEI, where she focuses on child welfare and foster care issues. Specifically, her work analyzes the role of faith-based, civic, and community organizations in changing the foster care and adoption services landscape. She also studies how socioeconomic factors affect foster care placement and services and the impact of the opioid crisis on child welfare. She is concurrently a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.

Rhema Vaithianathan is a professor in the School of Economics at Auckland University of Technology and codirector of the Centre for Social Data Analytics. Dr. Vaithianathan recently led an international research team in developing a predictive risk-modeling tool to assist child welfare call screening decisions in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. She is currently leading the infrastructure development of the Douglas County Decision Aid, a predictive model to be used during child welfare call screening in Douglas County, Colorado.

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