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Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative: Building a Customized Data System

A notable example of Metis Associates' work in building web-enabled database applications were a number of applications we developed for the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative. Launched in 2001, the Initiative works nationally, in 17 states and locally to improve policies and practices, to promote authentic youth engagement, apply evaluation and research and create community partnerships in support of young people. Its work is intended to help young people in foster care achieve greater success in education, employment, housing, health, social capital, financial capability and achieving permanency. One of the initiative’s key components is a Opportunity Passport™ savings account that is opened for each participant and matched by Jim Casey and other funding partners. Matched savings accounts have emerged as one of the most promising tools to enable low-income individuals save, build assets, and enter the financial mainstream. Using the matched savings mechanism, Jim Casey sites have helped young people learn financial-management skills, become connected to the mainstream banking system, save money, and purchase assets that can help them transition successfully to adulthood.

In 2004, Metis IT professionals developed a web-based data system for Jim Casey sites to store, track, and report their matched savings data for young people participating in the Opportunity Passport™. The Opportunity Passport™ provided a full range of financial-education services to young people aging out of care and matched savings accounts. This system, a Java application built on a scalable infrastructure, was created on industry-standard, open-source software packages (for example, Apache and MySQL) so that it can run on any operating systems platform. It was designed to handle multiple programs, each assigned its own database.

In 2012, Jim Casey asked Metis to develop a new data system designed to support key features of its modified Opportunity Passport™ program, to reflect recent programmatic changes and respond to sites' need for a more flexible, intuitive, and useful data system. The system, called the Opportunity Passport™ Data System (OPDS), collected, stored, and reported on participant-level data (including demographic information, financial education, asset training and asset purchases); site data (e.g., funding partners, leveraged funds, and financial-education curricula); and state data (e.g., policy and practice improvements.) The OPDS development was guided by a stakeholder group composed of site representatives and Jim Casey staff. This system was developed using Microsoft ASP.NET Framework 4.0 for the front end and Microsoft SQL SERVER for the back end, as well as SQL Reporting Services. In addition to containing an extensive pre-programmed reporting menu to enable uniform reporting across sites, the system also provided an ad hoc reporting feature that enables sites to create and run their own statistical reports.

The initiative, once an independent foundation, began operating as a unit of the Annie E. Casey Foundation in 2015.