Upon turning 18, foster youth face the extremely difficult challenge of transitioning or aging out of the foster care system.
“The experience of aging out is traumatic. Some youth have longed for permanency and yet have not been adopted. Others want simply to be out of the system and on their own-- and yet they often don’t have the social support and networks that can ensure their success as adults. No matter how youth approach aging out, one thing is certain: resources, services and supports begin to fall away once you turn 18.” - Kristin Brown from Solutions PDX
As participant and co-organizer of The Social Impact Lab, I was connected with the local non-profit Solutions PDX and a motivated group of former foster youth who shared the goal of supporting youth transitioning out of foster care.
Over the course of an 8-week intensive “design marathon,” my eyes were opened to the numerous challenges faced by a group of people I knew hardly anything about. I’m so grateful to the former foster youth who enthusiastically participated in this project. With their expertise, our team was able to propose a solution to the open-ended question:
How might we redesign “home” or “housing” for transitional foster youth?
We followed the design thinking process outlined below to ensure we were solving for the right problem.
We used social media campaigns as well as interviews with former foster youth and their advocates to learn as much as we could about the transitioning experience. We also created co-design opportunities where youth shared their insights through ideation, prototyping, and testing ideas. In doing so, we learned of one of their biggest obstacles to finding housing:
Youth may not be aware of what housing opportunities are available to them.
One young woman shared that she had to move out of “terrible” housing situations 3-4 times during her first year out of foster care, since she and her mentor weren’t aware of a better option:
“I wish I knew about the apartments I live in now. I wish I knew about them then. Nobody told me.”
How might we provide transitioning foster youth with the resources they need to find housing?
We refined our design brief based on the insights above, and then focused our research on how foster youth seek out resources and support. While most of these young people expressed their preference for personalized face-to-face help, there were some situations where they would look online instead:
Scenario 1: In-person
Youth often prefer to receive in-person support from parental figures, mentors, and people they can relate to.
“[They can] help you get a grip on yourself.”
“[Support means] someone who can listen to my problems; help me come up with solutions.”
Scenario 2: Online
However, youth may be unable or reluctant to ask for help, especially about certain stigmatized topics.
“Sometimes you can’t get [in-person] help right away.”
“I don’t want to admit to people that I have mental health problems.”
During a two-day “Social Impactathon,” we all worked together to investigate solutions that could address our new brief, while achieving these research-informed goals:
Tailor a research experience to fit the specific needs of transitioning foster youth
Use technology to facilitate personal connections, rather than completely replacing them
Enable a community to help ensure information is relevant and up-to-date
Proposed Solution: Oregon Foster Youth Resource Hub
The Oregon Foster Youth (OFY) Resource Hub is a mobile-optimized website or app that provides accurate, up-to-date, and relevant information for Oregon foster youth and their advocates. These are our preliminary ideas for its design and functionality:
Search bar allows for specific questions, while buttons enable browsing by category
Information for each category appears in simple, digestible steps
The Resource Page provides detailed information, along with multiple opportunities to connect to actual people who can help. In this example, youth can message the contributor of the article, contact a housing services manager, or ping with their mentor by adding the resource to their shared reading list.
Collects user data to filter resources by age, school status, and other factors
Keeps track of progress, sends reminders, and potentially gamifies the process
OFY Resource Hub Development
The next step for this project is to test our prototype and validate that it could be an appropriate solution for the youth we are trying to serve. Then, in order to potentially make this proposal a reality, Solutions PDX plans to present our research findings and design mockups to the Oregon state government in 2019. I plan to continue my involvement in the OFY Resource Hub as it gains more support and funding from key stakeholders in the community.
Designing for Social Impact
For me, designing for social impact extends beyond the project you see here. As a volunteer organizer of the OpenIDEO Portland Chapter, I work with a team to host monthly events and workshops that connect Portland talent to social impact design thinking challenges.
Part of that effort includes co-organizing the Social Impact Lab, which in itself is an experience that we are iterating upon, designing, and testing. We are looking forward to introducing another session of the lab in spring of 2019!