learn / 2021
Our new app helps youth in foster care design exciting futures with a supportive community
At Stepping Forward LA (SFLA), we empower youth in foster care by leveraging the expertise of individuals who have been through the system. Last year, our community of former foster youth developed an interactive mobile app to help youth build skills, access resources, and get support as they enter adulthood. Over the next year, we will guide 400 current and former foster youth through our app to gain stability and a foundation to thrive. We will also create 24 internships that pay former foster youth to continue improving the app.
In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?
- County of Los Angeles
What is the problem that you are seeking to address?
Many youth learn life skills – opening a bank account, applying for a job, renting an apartment – from family. Youth aging out of foster care don’t, and the moment they exit, they lose support of social workers, judges, lawyers, and group home staff. By age 26, 50% are unemployed and 30% are homeless. SFLA helps youth step confidently into the future by filling gaps in the system: 1. We put youth in the driver’s seat. In the system, decisions are made for youth, keeping them from developing agency. We help them identify what they want and build decision-making skills. 2. We emphasize thriving. Youth are used to survival mode. Current approaches to helping them exit care emphasize housing and jobs – essential but not enough. We help them envision an exciting future by exposure to things beyond their current reality. 3. We create community. Without support, adulthood is isolating. We introduce youth to a network of peers and trusted adults who help them build hope and confidence.
Describe the project, program, or initiative that this grant will support to address the problem identified.
Our one-of-a-kind mobile app, designed by a team of former foster youth, app guides youth on a journey to prepare for – and get excited about – their future. In addition to improving outcomes for youth, we have an ambitious vision for our app: That it transforms the foster care system’s current approach to helping youth transition from care, providing those who support them with a modernized, youth-centered toolkit and format. Most youth we serve have access to smart phones and are accustomed to using social media. Our app provides an online community and a centralized library of engaging content and resources curated specifically for youth exiting care – a “one-stop shop” to build skills, get support, and explore opportunities. Given the popularity of short-form video as a communication medium, the key vehicle for delivering information through our app is short, engaging instructional videos. In addition to linking to existing online resources, we provide opportunities for volunteers and former foster youth within our community - and eventually app users themselves - to produce and share original content. Funding will help us engage and guide 400 youth through the app to gather feedback on our beta version. We will also establish recurring paid internship positions for youth who demonstrate a commitment to their goals and an interest in improving the app. In addition to creating 24 job opportunities each year, this will ensure our app stays relevant and youth-friendly.
In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?Applying a proven model or solution to a new issue or sector (e.g., using a job recruiting software or strategy to match clients to supportive housing sites, applying demonstrated strategies from advocating for college affordability to advocating for housing affordability and homelessness, etc.)
Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?
- Direct impact
- Indirect impact
Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.
Our app guides youth through a journey to build skills and community: “Discovery”: Youth are invited to explore the app. We help them create a customized plan and meet core group coaches – volunteers and former foster youth. On a community feed, youth engage with supportive peers and volunteers, setting a positive tone for their journey. “Core Groups”: Youth in crisis are fast-tracked. Otherwise, based on their plan, they are welcomed into: education, employment, housing, finances, and self-care. The goal is to move them out of “survival mode” quickly by assigning content and small tasks. Youth earn points and badges as they advance. “Elective Groups”: Youth are then eligible to join groups, discussions, and events related to fitness, travel, music, and whatever else they wish to learn from our 100+ speakers and volunteers. Long term, we aim to: - Increase high school graduation, college matriculation, and employment - Improve confidence, connectedness, and sense of agency
What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?
Designed by individuals who know firsthand what youth in foster care need most, our app has a strong foundation of viability with our target market. Initially, we aim to retain 50% of users through completion of core groups, growing over time as our interns survey disengaged users and improve the app by adding live events, games, and workshops. With API technology, we can track engagement in real time, to answer: Engagement: – How often do youth engage? – What factors increase engagement? – Do graduates contribute back to the community? Retention: – Do youth stay engaged over time to achieve goals? – What incentives or activities keep youth most committed? – What’s the average time to complete core competency groups? Life Outcomes: – What changes do youth experience in knowledge, perspective, behavior, and status as a result of our app? – How do their outcomes compare to peers in areas like high school graduation, employment, college enrollment, emotional wellbeing, etc?
Describe the role of collaborating organizations on this project.
While Stepping Forward LA has taken the lead to develop this app through our unique community, we look forward to sharing it with as many organizations as possible, creating a centralized hub where service providers can refer youth to receive support and guidance, and where they can request access to data that helps them better serve their constituents. We expect that key beneficiaries of our app will be: 1) Court system: Judges, attorneys, and court-appointed special advocates 2) Other youth-serving nonprofits 3) Group homes and residential facilities 4) Department of Children and Family Services: social workers and youth case managers All partners will be able to benefit from the app, which improves the current approach to helping youth prepare for and transition from care.
Which of the learn metrics will you impact?
- Social and emotional support
- College matriculation
- High school graduation rates
- Opportunity youth (“Disengaged youth” 16-24 not working or in school)
Indicate any additional LA2050 goals your project will impact.
- LA is the best place to CREATE
- LA is the best place to CREATE