Thea Ramirez, a former social worker, has created a tool that uses artificial intelligence to assist social service organizations in locating the most suitable adoptive parents for some of the country’s most at-risk children.
However, a recent investigation by the Associated Press revealed that the Family-Match algorithm has had limited success in the states where it has been implemented. This raises concerns about the effectiveness of artificial intelligence in addressing long-standing human issues.
Two states discontinued using the tool after their initial trials due to low adoption rates. Social workers in Florida, Georgia, and Virginia informed AP that Family-Match was not beneficial and often resulted in them being matched with families who were not willing to adopt. However, agencies in Florida had a more positive experience with the algorithm and found it helpful in expanding their search for potential parents.
Ramirez refused to be interviewed, but stated in an email that Family-Match is a useful tool for those actively utilizing it to aid in their recruitment and matching endeavors.
Here are a few key findings from the inquiry:
Ramirez, from Brunswick, Georgia, where her charity is located, began by creating a website that aimed to connect potential adoptive parents with birth mothers who were giving up their infants for adoption.
Ramirez promoted her website to counseling centers that oppose abortion and aim to convince women to continue their pregnancies.
In a 2012 blog post, Ramirez expressed her belief that raising awareness about adoption could potentially render Roe v. Wade unnecessary. She clarified in an email that her website, Family-Match, is not affiliated with any programs for expectant mothers.
Ramirez invited research scientist Gian Gonzaga to collaborate with her in developing an adoption matching system that utilizes compatibility to aid child welfare organizations in finding suitable adoptive parents for foster children. Gonzaga’s prior experience included overseeing the algorithms used by the online dating platform eharmony.
In a promotional video for Family-Match on YouTube, Gonzaga expressed her enthusiasm for the project, stating that it was the most exciting thing she had encountered in her entire career.
In the end, Gonzaga became a member of the board of directors for Ramirez’s nonprofit organization, Adoption-Share.
Gonzaga, who collaborated with his spouse Heather Setrakian at eharmony and later on the development of the Family-Match algorithm, directed inquiries to Ramirez. Setrakian expressed her pride in the time she spent perfecting the Family-Match model.
A representative from eharmony stated that the company was not involved with Family-Match and described the individuals as “previously employed.”
Ramirez has utilized her connections to secure contracts, ranging from former first lady Melania Trump to governors’ offices in Georgia and Virginia.
Virginia and Georgia authorities discontinued the use of Family-Match after their test periods yielded only one or two adoptions per year. Tennessee stated that they terminated their trial before implementing it due to technical difficulties.
Several months after Georgia left Family-Match, Ramirez had a meeting with a staff member from Governor Brian Kemp’s office and also attended a hearing at the statehouse to ask for $250,000 in funding for a statewide expansion.
In July, the state changed its decision and entered into a new agreement to resume utilizing the technology. According to a state representative, Adoption-Share has granted Georgia free access to Family-Match.
Public figures have also shown their support for Ramirez.
She participated in ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange alongside the former Miss Utah USA beauty queen. In Florida, Ramirez initially offered her tool for no charge due to a grant from the Selfless Love Foundation, located in Jupiter, Florida. This foundation was founded by Ed Brown, the previous CEO of the company responsible for Patrón tequila, and his wife, Ashley Brown, a former model and advocate for foster children.
The Browns hold a yearly gala in the Palm Beach area to raise funds for the foundation’s initiatives, which have highlighted the efforts of Adoption-Share. Shelli Lockhart, the marketing director for Selfless Love Foundation, stated that Adoption-Share’s grant concluded in October 2022. She also expressed pride in the collaborative efforts to increase adoptions, but chose not to elaborate on the reason for the grant’s end.
After the funding from charitable donations ran out, the state government took over and granted Adoption-Share a contract worth $350,000 last month.
In May, Adoption-Share announced that Family-Match was chosen to participate in a fundraiser led by former St. Louis Cardinals player Adam Wainwright. The fundraiser was intended to support the growth of the organization and address the urgent need for foster and adoptive families in Missouri. During the event, Ramirez took pictures with Darrell Missey, the director of Missouri’s Children’s Division, who was reviewing Adoption-Share’s proposal.
Ramirez has emphasized the tool’s use in Florida’s privatized child welfare system as she attempts to attract charitable backing and expand business opportunities in New York City and Delaware.
Adoption-Share has recently been awarded a contract by the Florida Department of Health to develop an algorithm specifically for public health officials who deal with children suffering from severe medical conditions and disabilities. This algorithm is aimed at assisting these officials in identifying and caring for children who may never be able to live independently. This contract marks a major expansion for Adoption-Share, as their previous work focused primarily on child welfare agencies. The reason for this expansion is because children with complex medical needs often require continuous care throughout their lives.
According to Bonni Goodwin, an expert in child welfare at the University of Oklahoma, the power dynamics are altered when a child is unable to simply leave a situation. This increased vulnerability adds a new dimension to the situation.
You can reach out to AP’s worldwide investigative team by emailing [email protected] or submitting a tip through https://www.ap.org/tips/.