Using technology to connect foster youth with resources, jobs, and support to become successful, independent adults
Raised in the child welfare system, Serita Cox was impacted by challenges that many foster youth face — housing instability, disrupted education, and involvement with the juvenile justice system. Despite these challenges, Cox achieved personal and career success as a senior executive of a Fortune 100 technology company in Silicon Valley. Her experiences inspired her to use technology to help foster youth overcome their challenges to achieve their full potential.
In 2010, Cox co-founded iFoster to create a safe and private online community for foster youth, caregivers, and child welfare organizations to access to thousands of resources and support such as computers, tutoring, housing, food, emergency funds, and mental health services. Cox believes that employment is key to independence for foster youth, stating “a job is how foster youth can ensure they continue to live with a roof over their head and food on the table, and can pursue their dreams once they exit care.” iFoster trains and places transition-age foster youth in competitive careers; it also hires hundreds of current and former foster youth to provide support to its 70,000 members ranging from basic resource navigation assistance to complex case management. Under Cox’s formidable leadership, iFoster is improving child and caregiver well-being and transforming the child welfare system.
Foster youth are the most vulnerable young people in this country. A child in foster care is a ward of the state…as a society we are responsible for those outcomes.
– Serita Cox, iFoster
- California’s foster care system is responsible for nearly 60,000 youth who have been removed from their homes because of abuse, violence, and neglect.
- The foster care system underinvests in foster youth, contributing less than 50 percent of what it costs an average American family to raise a child from 0 – 17 years of age.
- Often carrying the trauma of abuse and neglect, disrupted educations, and housing instability, foster youth typically have lower educational attainment and higher rates of homelessness, incarceration, and behavioral, mental health, and financial challenges than their peers.
- iFoster aggregates thousands of resources for its 70,000 members — one-third of whom are Californians — on its free online resource portal. Members use the portal to apply for critical safety net services, access free or reduced-priced goods, and safely store vital documents.
- Stationed at college campuses and workforce centers across California, iFoster’s TAY AmeriCorps members — who are current and former foster youth — serve as “peer navigators” who provide in-person and phone-based support at call centers to help their peers access resources and achieve academic, employment, and self-sufficiency success.
- Through groundbreaking partnerships with organizations like the California Public Utilities Commission, T-Mobile, and Microsoft, iFoster provides free smartphones, computers, and internet access to disconnected foster youth to help them find resources and services, participate in school, communicate about jobs, and maintain their personal networks.
- Through iFoster Jobs, California foster youth receive 30 hours of jobs training, and, upon completion of a readiness assessment, are matched with an employer who agrees to hire qualified foster youth. iFoster helps each youth maintain their job by ensuring they have stable housing, transportation, childcare, appropriate attire, and a cell phone.
- iFoster connects 150,000 foster youth and caregivers nationwide to more than $125 million worth of resources and services annually.
- iFoster’s 100 TAY AmeriCorps “peer navigators” connected more than 20,000 California transition-age foster youth to resources and services across 54 California counties in 2021.
- In 2021, iFoster raised and distributed $1.8 million in emergency funds to foster youth and those who care for them.
- Since 2019, iFoster has helped more than 700 California foster youth get a good job. On average, 90 percent of youth remained employed after 12 months, were promoted in less than three and a half months and were earning $19.35 an hour within the first year.
- In 2022, iFoster plans to launch “the largest, national community-informed well-being index” for the foster youth community. Each year, iFoster will survey its members to measure their wellbeing and amplify their common voice to advocate for policy change.
- By 2023, iFoster plans to serve up to 90 percent of all current and former foster youth living in California by increasing membership to its online resource portal and expanding the iFoster Jobs and TAY AmeriCorps “peer navigator” programs.
-  The University of California at Berkeley California Child Welfare Indicators Project
-  U.S. Department of Agriculture
-  Youth.gov
-  Urban Institute
Video by Talking Eyes Media
Primary Regions Served
The written profile and video reflect the work of the leader(s) the year they received a Leadership Award. Please contact the leader(s) for current information.