In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the team at Think of Us heard directly from foster youth in crisis. Some were dropped off at a homeless shelter the day they aged out of foster care. Others lost their jobs. College students couch surfed as on-campus housing abruptly closed. Thousands became even more deeply isolated as institutional foster care placements went on lockdown. To understand more about what current and foster youth were facing as the pandemic unfolded and offer immediate relief, we collaborated to provide MicroCash Grants.
More than 27,000 young people told us their most pressing concerns - lack of housing, education disruption, financial instability, anxiety or depression, and needing more supportive people in their lives. This data was used directly to inform pandemic relief programs. Congress allocated $400 million for more than 800,000 current and former foster youth, issued a moratorium on aging out, and extended other supports.
The research is clear that more support means better life outcomes for foster youth. But emergency relief Congress made available fell short. The program's timeline was extremely tight, expiring on October 1st. Child welfare systems were already overwhelmed by the effects of the pandemic. They had no contact with youth no longer officially in care - and the system is simply not designed to rapidly disperse funding.
Check For Us, our national outreach campaign to find and connect former foster youth with their state to access federal pandemic relief:
- Connected more than 30,000 current and former foster youth
to 44 states and Washington D.C.
- Built a custom application portal used by 24 states, leveraging technology to reduce inefficiency.
- Published an implementation report with the Youth Law Center that directly informed White House + Congressional strategy based on direct feedback from 30 states.
We got an even deeper look into the gaps of the child welfare system. We learned that better systems for distributing aid are possible. That an equitable experience requires more than just financial resources. That states can work together to troubleshoot and many are eager to provide feedback for future efforts.
Check for Us confirmed what we already know - young people respond to the voices of those with shared lived experience.
Read this article by PBS News to join Think of Us CEO, Sixto Cancel and others with lived experience in the continuing conversation around how to support foster youth through the COVID-19 pandemic.