Our evolution has been driven by an ever-deepening understanding of how the child welfare system impacts youth and families. Tens of thousands of individuals with lived experience and hundreds of partners across the country have worked with us to identify opportunities to catalyze change and create solutions. Today, we engage strategically across the national ecosystem, addressing a wide array of interconnected challenges.
This year we launched the Center for Lived Experience (CLE), a groundbreaking participatory research, proximate policy, and community building initiative. The CLE strategically addresses knowledge gaps between decision-makers and people within the system by conducting innovative research and creating feedback loops so that federal, state, and local policies and practices are anchored in the stories, insights, and innovative ideas of foster children and their families.
This year we also expanded Virtual Support Services (VSS), our core Direct Impact program. VSS is a warmline that provides digital tools and personal assistance to empower foster youth and families to access vital services in California, Georgia, Washington, D.C., and Greater Boston. This model offers a scalable solution that can be used to transform service provision anywhere. VSS informs our larger work to catalyze systems change by providing ongoing feedback about what’s working and what’s not for families interacting with the foster care system.
We also continued to actively engage with the White House and Congressional stakeholders to influence and shape federal policies and funding flows that impact foster care. That work has included supporting the implementation of the Title IV-E Prevention Program, reauthorization of Division X of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, and proposals to reform how the $11.7B in dedicated federal child welfare funding is used.
Our work expanded rapidly at the intersection of tech, data, and partnerships. We published new research, built new tools, and engaged a national community of people with lived experience fueled by key engagements from California and Washington, D.C., and anchor investments from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and others.
We worked to systematically center lived experience, not just within our projects but in every element of how the child welfare system operates.
Think of Us 2.0 was born as we turned our focus to bridging critical systemic gaps in support for foster youth during the COVID-19 pandemic. Leveraging support from key funders, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, #StartSmall, and the Aviv Foundation, we quickly established direct resources and launched an action group to assist states in adjusting their practices to align with the immediate needs of foster youth.
This timely action and its resulting impact solidified our reputation as a nimble, solution-oriented organization that centers lived experience in unique ways.
Emerging from the New Profit Accelerator Initiative, Think of Us evolved from a technology non-profit to a research and design lab with a clear focus - transforming the child welfare system.
We formalized our research methodology and, in sites across the country, led our first ever discovery sprint to fully understand the experience of aging out from those who lived it.
As a technology nonprofit, our primary efforts included development of the Think of Us App and hosting Hack-a-thons across the US (including in partnership with the White House).
Think of Us formally incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2017 with a vision to create a virtual tool to support young people aging out of foster care with the connections, resources, and tools they need to thrive.
As a college student, Sixto launched Think of Us with a vision to create video content that was honest and direct so people with lived experience in foster care, rather than actors, could tell their own stories. This early work catalyzed a commitment to integrating those most affected by the system into systems reforms.