It’s May, which means it’s time to introduce you to this year’s Hope & Grace Initiative Grant Recipients! This illustrative list of community leaders and initiatives are making great strides in the field of mental health, shining a light and improving lives every single day. We’re proud to assist them in their goals, and to that end are proud to announce that this round of grant recipients brings us to over 3 million dollars granted in just three short years. It’s our honor to help these initiatives pave the way to a brighter future for mental health.
We’d like to introduce you to our grant recipients, and today’s feature is on Think of Us, a technology platform that assists foster youth. Sixto Cancel, CEO and Founder, took some time to tell everyone a bit more about this amazing program:
“Think of Us is a technology platform focused on improving the lives of young people in the foster care system by empowering them to be at the head of their own lives and their own treatment.
We provide this assistance through a web and mobile app that allows young people to create their own personal advisory boards to help them navigate the foster care system, transition from adolescence to young adult, and access some of the resources they may need throughout the experience. As we know, some of the most critical items when it comes to foster care children are housing and employment/financial stability, but at the center of it all is physical and mental wellbeing, which is the main focus of our work right now.
One of the most striking things we see in this work is that 30% of all kids who are in the foster care system today had parents who were also in the foster care system. One of the most resilient populations is parenting young people, specifically parenting moms. According to Jim Casey data, one of the top groups of savers who are matching dollar for dollar to buy a car or to rent an apartment or for their education is parenting young people. But that’s not to diminish the impact of what the experience can do to someone. It’s the reason we’re so excited to be a grand recipient from the hope & grace fund. We’re going to make sure those parenting foster children have the resources they need to be successful.
The grant from hope & grace couldn’t have come at a better time. Although our platform is robust, it doesn’t currently have the education features for the young parents who are in our pilot. The act of having children can create such vulnerability to depression. Additionally, a young parent must also now provide for a new child while either in or recently aged out of the foster-care system, and they themselves didn’t necessarily have the best childhood. They struggle with how to create the best future for both themselves and their child can cause tremendous mental strain. With the funds we’ve received, we’ll be able to provide those resources to ease their transition.
We also have such an opportunity to make our platform gender-responsive, able to meet people where they’re at in terms of “SOGI,” which is Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. We really want to meet people where they’re at by providing resources that are sensitive to and provide for all aspects of sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression. These are things we hold dear here at Think of Us, and this funding will help us put resources around these ideas to make them a reality.
I don’t think anyone can adequately express what being in foster care can do to your mental health. I’ll give a disclaimer that I’m not a mental health professional, but from all the work we’ve done and all the research and resources to which we’ve been privy, foster care can do a number on your mental wellness. First, you come to foster care because you were physically, sexually and/or emotionally abused and/or neglected. Any of those situations carry tremendous amounts of toxic stress, which releases high levels of cortisol that wind up attacking the brain. Being in foster care causes adverse childhood experiences that are main predictors for serious negative outcomes as they transition into being adults, and it also means consistent disconnection from any real type of continual support network. Foster children are removed from their families and then may experience moving to several new families, which means a new school, new environment, new adults, new rules, new systems, etc. Part of creating mental health and stability is having a support network of people with whom you can talk and process things, and foster care means you don’t have the same level of connection with anyone because you’ve been moved around. In my opinion, it’s harder to establish a more traditional upkeep of mental health in the foster care system due to this constant disconnection in addition to experiencing the foster care system itself.
I would say being a foster parent is a calling, and any of us who work to help those in foster care hold three main beliefs: the belief that young people need the ability to heal, they should be prepared for adulthood, and they should be able to thrive. It’s not enough to be self-sufficient: after years spent in these social systems and wrapped around these social services, you should be able to thrive once you’re on your own, not be an indicator of more negative outcomes in your future.
The funds received from the hope & grace initiative is going toward our Health Resources for Pregnancy and After program. We’re exploring how to create both video and written content that will help young mothers access the right resources in their area. When we go into a county, we gather young people around a hackathon or a design session and ask young women to give a video testimony of how their lives have improved through services in their area. We do this so young people can relate to someone in their area. A member of Think of Us can hear directly from another local young person about her journey and how she overcame her obstacles with the help of a particular service in their own area. We want young mothers to hear from another local young woman in their same situation that change is achievable and how to get help. We need to ensure young people are connecting to local professionals and circles of support that can really help them on their journey to mental wellbeing.
If you’re dealing with the foster care system as a young person, my best advice would be to surround yourself with adults who inspire you. Use them as a guidance system of where you want to go in this life, where you want to be, and then build that personal advisory board of adults who can begin to help you navigate the process to get there.
Think of Us is out there on the web, but you can also reach out to me personally via my email or on Twitter at@sixtocancel.”