In Silicon Valley, how can technology and the tech sector work improve the lives of foster youth?
Look to the Silicon Valley Children’s Fund (SVCF), whose foster youth scholars are beating the odds. SVCF is a nonprofit that’s been committed to improving educational and life outcomes for foster youth for nearly 30 years. SVCF leverages technology — from STEM training to hackathons — to help the nearly 1,500 foster youth of Santa Clara County become successful and self-sustaining adults. Their foster youth students are 10 times more likely to graduate.
Though foster youth don’t have traditional families, they a vibrant community of resources, innovation and opportunity right here in Silicon Valley.
“Youth from foster care can be placed in nine or more homes as a child, however, we have to recognize that their one consistent home is Silicon Valley,” Priya Mistry, SVCF’s Director of Philanthropy and Program Advancement tells us. “The key to their survival in this Valley, where rent is astronomically high, is through education and career training. They need to be able to compete in our job market and it’s our responsibility as a community to come together and offer them an opportunity.”
Oftentimes, foster youth take jobs familiar to them in social work and law enforcement. Without exposure to STEM, foster youth aren’t leaving their “3-mile radius,” Mistry explains.
As part of SVCF’s joint Clinton Global Initiative, SVCF and TeenForce partnered to offer high school students STEM training and paid work experience with some of the top tech companies. SVCF and TeenForce provide high school-aged foster youth with education in web design, robotics and design thinking to spark interest and show students of their own potential. After the course, they complete work readiness training and a paid internship, with personalized coaching and mentorship along the way. Many of these children have little to no previous exposure to STEM careers and high-tech fields.
“Through our work engaging Silicon Valley Business and Tech leaders to join us in being part of the solution, we have found that there is great interest in helping foster youth succeed. They just need direction on how they can help. As internship partners, we create opportunities for business and technology companies to give their time and talent to make a significant difference in the lives of these children, who can accomplish a lot but just need the guidance and opportunity,” Mistry says.
In February, SVCF and TeenForce played a leadership role in Hack Foster Care, a hackathon that brought together technology companies, non-profits, foundations, foster youth alumni and government agencies working together to engage the technology sector to improve outcomes for children and families in the child welfare system.
One goal of Hack Foster Care was to deliver 10,000 laptops to foster teens in California to help level the playing field. Only 20 percent of California foster teens have regular access to a laptop. Others are dependent on accessing a computer through public resources.
“We want a laptop in the hands of every foster youth in California,” Mistry says. “Kids need access to a laptop to do their school work, apply for jobs and function in the Valley.”
Another Hack Foster Care goal was to reform foster youth technology infrastructure of a system that Mistry says fails many foster youth as social workers are tasked with difficult jobs with limited tools and records remain on an archaic paper trail system.
“School records are getting lost, and kids moving through multiple home placements aren’t able to excel in school,” Mistry says.
Mistry uses Match.com as an example of a type of app that the tech community could create to help match foster youth to families.
“We need to start thinking about the solutions that are already put in place,” she says. “We have these great apps like this where you can use analytics to match with your life partner and figure out a relationship where you can be happy. Why can’t we use that same technology to match a child with foster parents who can provide the love and support they need?”