12 November 2023
Thea Ramirez is a former social worker. She now runs a non-profit organization called Adoption-Share.
Ramirez has partnered with a computer scientist and developed an artificial intelligence (AI) tool called Family-Match. The tool aims to help social service agencies find the best parents to adopt children in foster care. Foster care is a temporary service provided by American states for children who cannot live with their families.
Gian Gonzaga is the computer scientist who worked with Ramirez. He had previously directed the technology behind eharmony, a popular online dating tool.
"I was more excited about the project than anything I've heard for all of my career," Gonzaga said in a Family-Match video posted to YouTube.
But an Associated Press (AP) investigation found that Family-Match produced limited results in the states where it has been used. The results raise questions about the ability of AI to solve complex human problems.
Social workers in Florida, Georgia and Virginia told AP that Family-Match was not useful. It often led them to unwilling families.
Virginia and Georgia stopped using Family-Match after a trial experiment. They said the tool only produced one or two adoptions a year.
Tennessee planned to use Family-Match but was unable because of technical issues.
Florida agencies, however, reported a better experience with the tool. They said Family-Match assisted them in finding more possible parents to adopt foster children.
Ramirez did not agree to answer questions from the AP. But she said in an email that "Family-Match is a valuable tool and helpful to users actively using it to support their recruitment + matching efforts."
And Gonzaga asked all questions to be sent to Ramirez.
Ramirez lives in Georgia, where her nonprofit organization Adoption-Share is based. She got her start by building a website to match possible parents with mothers who wanted their babies to be adopted.
Ramirez marketed her website to organizations that are against abortion. Abortion is a medical process that ends a woman's pregnancy. These organizations seek to provide care for pregnant women to persuade them to give birth.
After the state of Georgia stopped using Family-Match, Ramirez met with the state governor's office and appeared at a legislative hearing to request $250,000 to pay for a statewide expansion.
In July, Georgia decided to use Family-Match again and signed a new agreement. Adoption-Share is permitting Georgia to use Family-Match for free, a state official said.
Family-Match was also used for free in Florida at first. Thanks to a grant, or financial award, from the former head of the company that makes Patrón tequila, a kind of alcohol. The grant ended in October 2022. They would not explain why the grant ended, but said they were very pleased with the work done with Adoption-Share.
After the grant ended, Florida state government paid for Family-Match. Last month, the state awarded Adoption-Share a $350,000 contract.
In May, Family-Match was chosen to receive money from an event supported by Adam Wainwright. At the time, Wainwright was a professional baseball player with the St. Louis Cardinals in the state of Missouri.
This year, Adoption-Share won a contract with the Florida Department of Health to build a tool centered on children with the most severe medical needs and disabilities.
I'm Gena Bennett.
Sally Ho and Garance Burke reported this story for Associated Press. Gena Bennett adapted it for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
to adopt–v. to legally make someone else's child your own
match—v. go well together
recruitment–n. finding the person you need
dating—n. a the process of finding a love interest