“Community” is not a word typically used to describe the outcomes of today’s technology-obsessed world. Despite new forms of communication, hours spent staring at screen are generally not conducive to forming bonds with one’s neighbor.
However, one Los Angeles organization has channeled this energy into the creation of something with the potential for real impact within the foster care community. This summer, the Nathanson Family Resilience Center at UCLA launched the FOCUS on Foster Families app with the intent to foster connections in a system than can be isolating for the children, parents and professionals involved.
The Nathanson Center works on developing programs that help build families, particularly within underserved communities.
For this project funded by the Pritzker Foster Care Initiative, the center’s staff spent 10 months talking to local foster parents, kinship care families and foster youth in the Los Angeles area about their experiences. They then used these stories as the basis of a free mobile application that distills these experiences into an interactive format.
According to William Saltzman, Ph.D., the center’s associate director, the most important aspect of the app is that it carries the voice of actual foster youth.
“A lot of people feel isolated in foster care, and so we wanted to make the voices of those others who have experienced the same thing accessible to all.”
The app has two main pathways, one for foster caregivers and one for kids. Both of these pathways have a variety of resources focusing on building five main skill areas: communicating, overcoming stressful or traumatic situations, solving problems, dealing with tough emotions and setting goals. A significant part of the app is the hundreds of video resources, capturing interviews with former foster youth and parents sharing advice.
For foster parents, these videos run the gamut, covering everything from dealing with tantrums to managing visits with birth parents to advocating for a child at the school level. For foster youth, the videos range from the very practical (“advice for dealing with attorneys, court, and social workers”) to the more abstract (“you have to be your own voice”). However, running through every video is a spirit of new connection within the system, between those youth who are in foster care now and those who have come before.
“Our goal was to create this sense of community,” said Ashley Jupin, intervention delivery support specialist at the center. “I hope that [this app] is a resource that helps youth both learn concrete skills and learn that they are important, that their stories are important. I hope it can be a connection for them if they ever feel that they are alone.”
NOTE: The Pritzker Foster Care Initiative is a funder of Fostering Media Connections, the parents organization of The Chronicle of Social Change.