Virtual Support Services

Virtual support to bridge the gap between the needs of foster youth and families and community resources.

Spark
Support
Co-Drive

Who

Current and former foster youth and those who support them, including kinship families

Why

Giving direct access to search, apply, and obtain resources to those who need them most.

Conditions of Systems Change

more info
Policy
Resource Flows
Power Dynamics
Practices
Relationships + Connections
Mental Models

The Challenge

Community resources are vital to meeting the immediate needs (e.g. clothing, emergency shelter), long-term needs (e.g. transportation, housing), and systemic needs (e.g. mental health + healing from trauma) of foster youth and others impacted by child welfare. Traditional case management is overburdened, unable to solve a multitude of social problems it was not designed to address. It is also expensive, hampered by bureaucracy, and enforces inequitable distribution of power and resources.

The Action

Think of Us is testing Virtual Support Services (VSS), a digital wraparound model that gives young people and families direct access to resources, creating a clearer pathway to support for those who need it. Building on our successful COVID-19 Command Center, VSS allows users to search and apply for resources according to their priorities, urgency and preferences with the support of a team of locally based community responders. 


We built our Digital Collaborative to parallel VSS, making existing successful virtual solutions available in child welfare. Think of Us partners with tech companies to design, test and deliver services directly to state foster care programs and solve systemic breakdowns: redistributing overstocked medication (Sirum), building access to credit (Community Financial Resources), distributing food stamps (mRelief), career support (Career Village), support for first generation college students (Beyond12), mental health support groups (Pace) and more.

The Stats

  • 425,000 youth in foster care in the US at any given time
  • Hundreds of thousands of foster parents, kinship caregivers, biological parents, and supportive adults impacted by foster care nationwide

The Results

  • Now live for youth, foster and kinship families in three sites: California, Washington D.C., and Boston.
  • Holistic approach that leverages interactive videos, technology, resource library, virtual community, and live support (call/text/chat) to support in:
    - Identifying resources available
    - Selecting resources of choice
    - Applying + accessing resources.
  • Ongoing data collection on greatest needs, barriers, solutions, and effective referral services to inform broader child welfare system.
  • New learnings by aligning use of tech tools, investment of state and federal dollars, and policy that elicits measurable impact.

Centering Lived Experience

  • Designed and launched with involvement of former foster youth
  • Participatory design sessions with youth: interviews and usability testing
  • UX research with lived experience - kinship caregivers, young parents, current and former foster youth, youth boards, and paid professionals
  • Community Responders with lived experience
  • Former foster youth who advise on VSS are financially compensated for their engagement

Key Stakeholders

  • Youth + adults impacted by child welfare
  • State of California (kinship + permanency contracts)
  • Greater Boston Area (Michael S. Dell Foundation + Liberty Mutual Foundation)
  • Washington D.C.
  • Aunt Bertha - FindHelp.org  
  • Digital Collaborative Partners
    - National Center for Housing and Child Welfare
    - Get Schooled
    - One Simple Wish
    - Box

Geographic Location

Goal: Nationwide
Live in: the state of California, the Greater Boston Area and Washington D.C.

Time Frame

Ongoing + long-term, launched in 2021

Budget

$1.55M

Philanthropic
Earned Revenue
Government Contract

Approach

Strategic
Opportunistic

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