Friday, November 21, 2008

Designing a Website for Youth Emancipating From Foster Care

A valued friend of mine recently asked my insights regarding designing a web page for young people in her state who are "aging out" of foster care. Here is what I shared with her...

Many sites for youth include low-quality cartoons and Clip Art, rather than photographs. It's almost as if the website designers think that young adults are like children. I believe that teenagers can see right through that. I certainly could!

It's difficult to emotionally identify with Clip Art. If I were designing a young website, I would either provide photos of real-life foster care alumni and/or artwork drawn by talented young people in and from foster care, like the example above.

I would also make the content relevant to survival. When we first age out of foster care, we need to survive. That's why I like this Aussie site, because the list of topics listed at the top of the page are relevant to young people.

When I first aged out of foster care, there was a cycle that I experienced in my life. And, I see that same cycle playing out in the lives of many young people today:

The first step is: Isolation and Independence: "I can make it, I know I can! And I won't have to depend on anyone else either. The one person that I can count on is me."

The second step is: Hitting the Wall. Not having enough money to buy food. Getting involved in a dysfunctional friend/lover relationship, and feeling trapped and without other viable options. Being temporarily homeless - and wondering if this experience will last forever...

The third step is: Gotta Survive. I cannot express strongly enough how powerful this impulse is. It testifies to the power of human survival. When you are hungry and don't have food, your stomach begins to speak, louder and louder. Its growls are persistent; they stop for a moment, but eventually return.

That third step is is a doorway of entry for people who truly care and want to make a difference: Talk to me when I've hit the wall. Talk to me when I'm broken. Because all I can do at that point is listen - and, in that moment, I am just desperate enough to listen to you....

When young people emancipate from foster care, it's like a fork in the road:
- They can be empowered - or disenfranchised
- They can learn to see themselves as 'agents of change' or 'recipients of (government) services'
- They can feel powerful or powerless over their ultimate destiny

One facet of every youth page should be a call to action, and a reminder of personal accountability. People of all ages respond to the level of expectations.

And there should be opportunities to 'Band Together' to make that positive difference, both in our own live and the lives of others. None of us succeeds or fails alone.

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