Technology Grant to Give Kinship Families Additional Resources

Truckee, Calif.-based nonprofit iFoster, along with United Ways of California (UWC), received $2.25 million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services over the next three years to create a single resource portal for families of the child welfare system.

The “Kinship Navigator Grant” will fund a digital service meant to serve as the “Yelp” of California’s child welfare world. Families and providers will be able to access available county, religious and non-profit resources and programs that are local by searching their zip code. The resource portal will also provide discounts at local, regional and national retailers that can save an average household up to $4,500 per year.

The service will be available to all of the state’s child welfare providers, but the focal point of the project is kinship families. More than 2.7 million children are in kinship families across the United States, and about 333,000 of those kids in kinship are in California.

Typically these families aren’t privy to all of the resources they can access because they aren’t as involved in the child welfare system, according to iFoster co-founder Serita Cox.

“Our hope is that if we have this portal and people have this resource, they will be better off with access to these resources,” Cox said. “Those families are vastly underserved because they don’t have an official social worker.”

“This Kinship Navigator Collaborative aims to combine the power of a national online community…with rich information about local resources from 2-1-1 programs, and “Yelp”-type feedback from caregivers and youth themselves, into a one-stop resource portal,” said Peter Manzo, president and CEO of United Ways of California, in an e-mail.

United Ways of California operates the local 2-1-1 system, a network of 28 local hotlines that allows states to call and ask about assistance programs and services in their area. iFoster’s user interface, customer relationship management system and search functionalities will all be updated.

When UWC teamed up with iFoster in June  the groups found that majority of the families who call the system are kinship families. The Kinship Navigator Collaborative service will specialize in helping those families, and others in the child welfare system, be directed via telephone or online to the services that will help them the most.

“2-1-1 information and referral programs have a wealth of information about local resources that should be as widely available as possible,” said Lilian Coral, UWC’s director of 2-1-1 California, in an e-mail. “We are excited about the potential of this Kinship Navigator Collaborative project to show the power of combining that data with smart web-based tools that both extend our reach and allow users to seek the resources they need.”

United Ways of California and iFoster were granted the funding this month by the Children’s Bureau of the Administration on Children and Families, the agency responsible for most child welfare-related funding at the Department of Health and Human Services.

“Creating support networks within our communities is essential to the health and welfare of children,” Said Will Lightbourne, director of the California Department of Social Services. “The Kinship Navigation Program is another example of public and private sectors coming together to ensure caregivers are connected with service providers who can help improve outcomes for children and strengthen families.”

The Children’s Bureau also granted the following organizations Kinship Navigator Grants this year:

Catholic Charities of Rochester, Catholic Family Center, Rochester, NY

Community Coalition for Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment, Los Angeles, Calif.

United Ways of California, South Pasadena, Calif..

North Oklahoma County Mental Health Center (NorthCare), Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Arizona Children’s Association, Tucson, Ariz.

Homes for Black Children, Detroit, Mich.

The Children’s Home, Tampa, Fla

All of the awards were made for three years, at up to $750,000 per year.

“We think this project will show that online and mobile technologies are not luxuries or simply nice features to have, but are essential strategies to connect with kinship and foster families, and engage them, through their feedback, in improving and changing the results they can achieve,” said Manzo.

Ryann Blackshere is a multimedia journalist with Fostering Media Connections.

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