A nonprofit law firm in Tampa Bay, Florida — Bay Area Legal Services — knows that knowledge is power.
In fact, accessing important and timely information is especially important for young people in the foster care system. Studies show that poor information exchange among foster youth can compound pre-existing medical, behavioral, and developmental problems.
So it’s easy to make the connection that easy and free access to information — like life skills and independent living, rights to mental health care, education, and legal protections — are paramount to their success as adults.
And that’s what attorney at law Taylor Sartor set out to provide.
Sartor is the creator of FosterPower, a website and mobile app designed to help Florida’s foster youth access free, digestible information.
The app launched in May 2023, targeted to the foster youth population in Florida, which has gained national attention for its overburdened child welfare system in recent years.
As of 2022, there were over 24,000 youth under age 18 in the state’s foster care system — and according to Sartor, who has worked at Bay Area Legal Services serving foster youth for over six years — many of them do not know their benefits, protections, and legal rights.
“Until now, there was no way for youth to access information on what they are entitled to in foster care — from what benefits they get when they turn 18, to what doctors should tell them when they are being prescribed psychotropic medications, learning they have the right to see their siblings, and so much more,” Sartor told Good Good Good.
“When youth are aware of their rights, they are more empowered to speak up and become their own advocates.”
This app — and the information it contains — was a long time coming. According to Sartor, FosterPower started as a paper guide six years ago, when she and a team of other law students initially came up with the idea.
Once she became an attorney, Bay Area Legal Services received a grant to turn the paper guide into a website and app.
This project even caught the attention of members of Congress, including Florida Representative Kathy Castor.
“Bay Area Legal Services has long been a force for good across the Tampa Bay area,” Rep. Castor said in a statement when the grant funding was initially announced in 2021.
“The new Legal Services Corporation grant will benefit countless Floridians in foster care through an innovative online mobile platform designed to educate and empower. I am grateful for the work of Bay Area Legal Services and their success in attaining justice and stability for our neighbors.”
Once the funding was in motion, Sartor’s team hired a digital project manager, a number of contractors, and worked with pro-bono partners and over 50 current and former youth in foster care.
Together, they built the app, along with a website and over 30 short-form videos featuring former foster youth discussing their experiences.
“Having youth input was vital to the creation of FosterPower. Everything from the name, the logo, and the content was all designed based on youth feedback,” Sartor said.
The goal of FosterPower isn’t just to be a catch-all of helpful information, but to truly empower young people at one of the most stressful times in their lives. Most importantly, the app makes confusing and complex legal jargon accessible to young people.
“We have taken complicated legal information and simplified it into a format that youth can and want to read,” Sartor said in a press release about the app. “Nothing like this has ever been done in Florida, or anywhere across the country.”
Information in the app is also broken down into a menu of common topics, including independent living benefits, medical information, education, the court process, placement, protections for LGBTQ+ youth, monetary allowance, and more.
Since its launch, FosterPower now has over 3,400 app downloads and 8,200 website users.
“What’s so great about this app is when children in care get moved from home to home, they often lose valuable possessions, but one thing they never lose is their phones,” former foster youth Alex Figueroa said in the press release.
“Literally having all of this knowledge in their pockets makes all the difference in the world to make sure they understand the child welfare system and the benefits offered to them.”
While Figueroa is right — foster youth are often able to keep their technological devices — it is important for children in the system to have access to computers and phones in the first place. Organizations like iFoster provide laptops to foster youth to help bridge this divide.
The combination of digestible and reliable information on accessible devices can make a real difference for foster youth.
With the launch of the program, Sartor has also trained youth, child welfare workers, attorneys, and judges on how to best use the app and access this vital information — across Florida and the U.S. And she hopes this work is the key to helping the nearly 400,000 foster children in the United States.
“We have received a lot of interest around the nation on how we can bring FosterPower to other states,” Sartor told Good Good Good.
“As of right now, all of the content is specific to Florida. We envision using Florida as a blueprint and working with other states to duplicate the information so that youth all over the country can have information on their benefits, protections, and legal rights in foster care.”
Header images courtesy of FosterPower