I. DISCOVER: What?
Problem Statement, entrepreneurial opportunity:
The United States foster care system is currently under-resourced in supporting and equipping youth aging out of the system as they transition into adulthood.
Strategic Design Relevance
This project uses a strategic design approach to strengthen the triple bottom line philosophy (TBLD+C) around foster care.
People = supporting youth aging out of care
Profit = adding value by decreasing the social cost by investing in this population
Planet = elevating generativity and inclusivity
Design & Culture = activating a culture and community of care for foster youth
The project aims to contribute to and positively impact the UN SDGs, specifically in eradicating poverty, providing populations with quality education, and creating decent work and economic growth for all.
Using strategic design, how can we create a resource to build a sense of agency for youth aging out of care in order to support their transition to independence?
II. Define: So What?
The “4D” framework structured and supported four stages of research, application, reflection and identification of key learnings to further the development of the project.
The methodologies consisted of primary and secondary research, including interviews with foster youth and experts in the field, data sourced from scholarly reports, focus group reports, forums and market research to gain a thorough analysis of the foster care system landscape.
Secondary Research Findings
Annually, taxpayers and communities are tasked with paying upwards of $300,000 in social costs – including public assistance and lost wages – for each individual over that person’s lifetime . The culmination of their sunken potential for economic contribution to society and their need for public assistance is represented by the sizable figures in the diagram below. It is clear that the case for investing in this demographic is a powerful one.
This inquiry evolved from analyzing the systemic issues affecting children within the foster care system as a whole, to narrowing its focus on the end of the foster care journey with a targeted actionable group — youth aging out between the ages of 16-20 (youth currently in transition and starting to think about aging out), as well as youth 21 and above who have already aged out.
In some states, aging out occurs at 18, while in others it is 21. At those ages, youth lose access to the resources and services that were once provided to them, such as health insurance, monetary stipends, housing, and case worker guidance. At the age of 21, foster youth are drastically less prepared (emotionally and practically) for their transition to adulthood than their non-foster care peers. Yet both are alike in sharing similar hopes, dreams, and fears. The following facts compare foster youth to their general population peers:
Primary Research Findings
The primary research revealed an imminent need to further support and equip youth at the end of their Foster Care journey with information, tools, and the capacity to exercise control over and implement positive actions on their lives in the following ways.
Youth at this transitioning stage in their lives consistently express feelings of being overwhelmed with all they have to learn and make decisions on . This need for information is ongoing, frequent, and is often hard for each youth’s caseworker to properly support due to being both overworked and underpaid.
A 2015 study found that foster youth who are aging out often lack confidence, self-esteem, and the belief in their own ability to succeed. Without these things, they exhibit behavior known as “learned helplessness” which is a lack of self-efficacy, motivation, and the belief that they can affect future events.
Often, youth experience the aging out process on their own, with no stable or trusted network of resources to turn to in order to ask questions, seek assistance, or simply not feel completely alone. A support network and positive community influence greatly contribute to their success or failure as they age out. They need to hold on to social ties from their past and “work on positive relationships that can help them emotionally and support them in reaching their future goals ”.
III. DESIGN: What Works?
A Responsive Platform Design that leverages the way modern content is consumed.
The following five design criteria emerged out of primary and secondary research:
1. Easy to Understand replace the overwhelmingly detailed resources currently available online
2. Accessible ease access to resources for all topics of interest situated on one platform;
3. Trusted vet and curate list of tools and resources to
help build a secure and supportive community for foster youth transition
4. Current update regularly to ensure current laws and regulations, as well as programs and initiatives remain relevant
5. Inclusive of Youth Voice & Contribution provide the target demographic with a resource that is largely infused with the perspective and advice from fellow foster youth.
Prototyping & Testing
Using the identified design criteria, the team designed a prototype for a web and mobile platform that offers resources with a unique combination of information, community support, and service guidance.
The platform was organized around six key content areas in which youth require most support: Housing; Career & Jobs; Budgeting and Finances; Education; Health & Mental Health; and Legal, as well as the need for non-invasive emotional support, seen in the form of peer-to-peer conversation, community engagement, and community building.
In the preliminary beta testing phase, the team created wireframes using the InVision prototyping tool, where users were able to click through the platform as if it were a real, functional website. It was tested multiple times with experts as well as foster youth.
Several rounds of prototyping and testing helped to validate the need for a platform’s functionality and purpose. Stakeholder feedback resulted in both structural and visual redesigns, including adding more photos of foster youth and offering a “Quick Start” page for those who aren’t sure where to start their search. All test subjects:
• Declared need for a website like this
• Were unaware of a similar existing website or service
• Confirmed access to computers and smartphones
• Confirmed need for peer mentorship, support, and guidance
• Were fully confident in the probability of using the platform
• Offered overwhelming support and approval of the platform
1 Overall Site Key Features:
• Organized by six key content categories: Housing, Employment & Jobs, Money & Expenses, Health & Mental Health, Education, and Legal
• Current: News feed with important updates, featured interviews and inspirational stories
• Accessible: All-encompassing hub of information, support, and guidance
2 Information & Resources
• Easy to Understand: Quick Start page, organized, video tutorials, and easily-digestible content
• Youth Contribution: Ratings and reviews of organizations based on past youth experiences working with that organization
3 + 4 Forums
• Trusted and Incorporates Youth Contribution: Community-moderated peer-to-peer and expert-to-peer discussions and advice on topics related to their aging out experience, offers a range of guidance and support
• Experts contribute to forums they are knowledgeable in (i.e. career counselors on resumes or job applications)
• Accessible: Mobile platform allows for quick, on-the-go contribution and interaction
• Personalized: Custom email communication aligned to user preference and needs
IV. DELIVER: Now What?
Roll-out & Distribution
The full list of features will be launched in three phases over four years. The phased approach allows for new features to be rolled out as the platform grows, as well as geographic expansion to the entire United States foster care population after its initial launch in New York City.
In order to spread the word about this platform, the team will rely heavily on word of mouth and referrals from partners in the foster care community, such as case workers, organizations, and foster youth themselves. Additionally, SEO will play a big part in driving traffic to the website along traditional creative marketing techniques.
The main outcome of this platform is to build a sense of agency for youth transitioning out of foster care by keeping them informed, engaged, and connected to a supportive community at this crucial time in their lives. It hopes to remove burdens, so they have the same opportunities as their parented-peers and are enabled to thrive.
The platform provides a trusted, curated source of information from hundreds of sources in one central location. Information will not be overwhelming or outdated in its delivery format and will offer the ideal tools for informed decision-making, fewer errors, and self-agency as they transition to independence.
The forum feature offers youth the ability to engage with, assist with, and be involved with the rest of the aging out foster youth community. This will, in turn, improve the youth’s perception of their own abilities to affect their future as well as that of others around them who are in similar situations. Additionally, through the informational section of the platform, users will be involved in their own decision-making with a focus on opportunities rather than barriers to build a sense of engagement and empowerment.
Connected to a Supportive Community
By connecting youth to a community that understands and supports them, youth will benefit from the interconnectedness often lacking from their foster care experience up to this point. This platform will also enable case workers, and the foster care system as a whole, to assist these youths more efficiently, thoroughly, and seamlessly through their emancipation process.
Social Workers/Case Workers
Hospitals & Clinics
Foster Care Agencies (Local and Governmental)
Foster Youth Organizations
Schools and Universities
Prior to Launch
The project is currently seeking funding support from foundations and organizations that are engaged in issues of youth aging out of foster care system, or the general empowerment of children.
Interested in learning more?
Contact the Team
May Chaivanon, Bhumi Doshi, Alexandra Felsenstein, and Vida Habibi
Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative (2013); Aging out of Foster Care in America. Retrieved on March 9, 2017 from | Gomez, R., Ryan, T., Norton, C., Jones, C. and Galán-Cisneros, P. (2015). Perceptions of Learned Helplessness Among Emerging Adults Aging Out of Foster Care. | Springer Science + Business Media New York, 32(6), pp.507-516. | National Kids Count (March, 2017) Children in foster care by age group. Retrieved on 10 December, 2017 | Rebbe, R., Nurius, P., Ahrens, K. and Courtney, M. (2016). Adverse childhood experiences among youth aging out of foster care: A latent class analysis. Children and Youth Services Review, [online] 74, pp.108-116. Available at: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/childyouth. | Sulimani-Aidan, Y. (2017). Barriers and resources in transition to adulthood among at-risk young adults. Children and Youth Services Review, [online] 77, pp.147-152.