Like many kids his age, Thomas Fair wanted to play sports. But as a teenager in Florida’s foster care system, switching schools always presented the same obstacle. Joining a new team meant submitting a record of his last physical exam—a process that involved reaching out to a long list of people and even longer delays.
That experience, among others, prompted Fair to help design My JumpVault, a Web-based and mobile application that gives foster youth and their allies a place to upload, store, and manage their documents. In addition to housing personal records, the tool includes information about young people’s rights in foster care and a list of available services. Giving teens access to such information can prevent common scenarios like getting a duplicate set of immunizations, Fair says, while helping youth reach key milestones that can prevent them from becoming homeless later in life.
“Having My JumpVault as a resource makes it easier for foster youth to be caught up with the rest of the population,” he says.
Created by and for Youth
Fair planted the seeds for My JumpVault as a participant in Florida Youth SHINE, a youth-run organization that empowers current and former foster youth to become leaders and advocates in their communities. Fair sat down with 30 youth who had been in Florida’s foster care system to discuss what features an online record-keeping tool would need. The group decided to target the app for foster youth as young as 12, the minimum age Florida foster youth are required to start planning for independent living, all the way to age 28, the maximum age they can receive a waiver for college tuition.
Focus group participants stressed the need for a tool that would back up their personal contacts and photos, in addition to storing health records or copies of their identification cards. The request is practical, Fair says, as youth need a way to keep in touch with coaches, teachers, and other positive adult connections. These caring adults—a well-known protective factor for vulnerable young people—“could potentially be [or lead to] an adoptive parent or mentor in a young person’s life,” he says.
Today, Fair works at Five Points Technology Group, where he helps customize My JumpVault for state and county child welfare systems and individual service providers. Wherever a project takes him, meeting with local youth continues to be an important part of the input-gathering process.
Keeping Information Up-to-Date and in the Right Hands
For the past two years, Florida’s Department of Children and Families has provided funding for community-based care agencies to use My JumpVault with the foster youth they serve. Fair and his colleagues worked with state and local officials to make sure My JumpVault contained privacy safeguards that make the app compliant with the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, also known as HIPAA. Caseworkers have the authority to determine who in a young person’s circle should have access to sensitive information like mental health diagnoses, and whether youth themselves are mature enough to have access to certain documents.
My JumpVault also includes tools to ensure that documents stay up-to-date or transfer to appropriate users. When a young person moves to a new foster family or gets a new caseworker, access to their information is transferred accordingly within 24 hours.
More than a Document Storage Tool
My JumpVault doesn’t just include young people’s personal records. It also connects them to information they need to improve their lives. The tool includes a list of community resources about independent living or food assistance programs, for example, or where to find help with job skills like writing resumes and cover letters.
Fair also emphasizes My JumpVault’s decision to include a list of rights young people in foster care may not know they have, like the right to go to court and to limit the number of people hearing personal information about their lives. He cites an example from his own experience, when a courtroom judge asked him to answer personal questions in front of a large group of people.
“I didn’t know at the time that I could write a letter and hand it to [the judge] personally,” Fair says. By contrast, he adds, youth using My JumpVault have information they need to become better advocates for themselves and their peers.
Family and Youth Services Bureau is part of the Administration for Children & Families, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services