Youth Help Florida Lawyers Develop a Free Foster Care Rights App

Posted August 30, 2023
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Teen girl with ponytail and headphones uses her smartphone outside

Thanks to a new mobile app called Fos­ter­Pow­er, Flori­da youth in fos­ter care can be bet­ter informed about their ben­e­fits, pro­tec­tions and legal rights. Tay­lor Sar­tor, an attor­ney with the Bay Area Legal Ser­vices’ L. David Shear Children’s Law Cen­ter in Tam­pa devel­oped the app. Flori­da Youth SHINE (FYS), a coun­cil run by young peo­ple who are or were in fos­ter care, helped edit the app’s content.

Down­load the Fos­ter­Pow­er App

The app is based on Sar­tor’s Know Your Rights,66-page pub­li­ca­tion she wrote as a law stu­dent with a team of peers. Know­ing that youth in fos­ter care, espe­cial­ly those in group homes, often lose access to paper mate­ri­als and records when chang­ing place­ments, Sar­tor and her team turned Know Your Rights into a dig­i­tal resource.

What Does Fos­ter­Pow­er Do?

The Fos­ter­Pow­er app — and its web­site — debuted in May 2023. It uses plain lan­guage to explain Florida’s child wel­fare laws. It also includes tips and guid­ance on sev­er­al asso­ci­at­ed top­ics, including:

  • inde­pen­dent living;
  • place­ment;
  • phys­i­cal health;
  • men­tal health;
  • LGBTQ rights;
  • mon­ey benefits;
  • edu­ca­tion; and
  • depen­den­cy court proceedings.

The Fos­ter­Pow­er pro­duc­tion team plans to add new top­ics and keep the app updat­ed as laws change. Addi­tion­al­ly, to ensure that the infor­ma­tion is rel­e­vant to young peo­ple, Sar­tor and her team cre­at­ed videos fea­tur­ing youth with expe­ri­ence in fos­ter care. FYS coun­cil par­tic­i­pants and oth­er young peo­ple address fre­quent­ly asked ques­tions in the recordings.

The team hopes oth­er legal rights orga­ni­za­tions across the coun­try will con­sid­er repli­cat­ing the tool and col­lab­o­rat­ing with youth coun­cils and young peo­ple who have expe­ri­enced fos­ter care.

Most peo­ple don’t know that there are youth advo­ca­cy groups or that there are places for youth in the sys­tem to use their voic­es and to be heard on an equal stand­ing [with adults],” says Dia­mond Whit­ley, a Flori­da Depart­ment of Chil­dren and Fam­i­ly hope nav­i­ga­tor and one of the young adults fea­tured in the Fos­ter­Pow­er videos. She encour­ages youth in fos­ter care to join advo­ca­cy orga­ni­za­tions to gain more insight into their rights. I know a lot of the things that I learned about being in care, and what I’m eli­gi­ble for and what I can take advan­tage of, I learned because of the [advo­ca­cy] posi­tions I had.”

Can Child Wel­fare Pro­fes­sion­als Use FosterPower?

Though the plat­form is pri­mar­i­ly designed for youth, it also edu­cates fam­i­lies, case­work­ers, judges, attor­neys and child wel­fare professionals.

Fos­ter­Pow­er gives instant access to child wel­fare work­ers, allow­ing them to more quick­ly and eas­i­ly answer ques­tions chil­dren and youth may have about their rights and the ser­vices avail­able to them,” Sar­tor says.

The product’s debut was time­ly: The free app launched this spring while Florida’s law­mak­ers were con­sid­er­ing a bill requir­ing child wel­fare work­ers to edu­cate young peo­ple about their legal rights. It passed, and now the Flori­da Depart­ment of Chil­dren and Fam­i­lies will also begin devel­op­ing a legal rights cur­ricu­lum for youth.

FYS is sup­port­ed by Florida’s Chil­dren First, a Casey Foun­da­tion grantee.

Learn about the new Flori­da law

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