Create a Real Safety Net Through a Social Network
While you might use a social media wall post to humble-brag about your new iPhone, share a baby pic or, admit it, an LOLcat, 19 year-old Lynisha is using her Camellia Network profile page to raise her son right, get a GED and overcome dire odds.
Lynisha is a former foster child.
The Camellia Network is a new nonprofit social network designed to help Lynisha transition from foster child, to thriving adult. The site taps several current trends of tech and media to tackle a perennial if overlooked problem in the back corner of the child welfare world: what happens to foster kids when they stop being foster kids? They still have all the emotional baggage from an abusive past. They still don't have a family, a support network, and often don't have an income or other resources once they leave state protection.
Enter thousands of strangers on the internet to help fill the void where loving parents should be. Money helps for sure, but this project is showing that put to the right use, a wall post on a teen’s profile page can open the door to a better life.
It’s hard enough to leave home for college for middle class teens. But for the nearly 30,000 foster kids who are thrust into adulthood each year, the transition to grown-up can be a tumultuously critical time. When a foster child turns 18 or 21 (different states have different caps) they lose the protections of the state system and get booted out of their homes, often with no support or resources to help set up life as an adult.
A quarter of kids who age out end up homeless within two years or incarcerated, according to figures provided by the Camellia Network. Sixty percent of them have children of their own, who are then twice as likely to end up in foster care themselves.
“It’s this horrible cyclical pattern that, I think, a lot of people aren’t aware of,” says Isis Keigwin CEO and Co-Founder of the Camellia Network, launched in September.
Thus the cycle continues, argues Keigwin and her co-founder Vanessa Diffenbaugh, author of “The Language of Flowers,” inspired by her own experience as a foster child. In the actual language of flowers, Keigwin explains, a Camellia signifies “my destiny is in your hands,” thus the name of the social network the pair created to break that cycle.
“Companies are using technology to solve all of their problems, but there’s so little happening with [technology] in child welfare,” says Keigwin.
The most direct aid the network provides is financial. Her site lets these disadvantaged youths set up a basic needs registry—something like a wedding registry for things like a bathmat or diapers. The participants choose from pre-approved items available on Amazon and then share their wishlist with the world.
Nineteen year-old ViQuan’s entire registry of 26 items was fulfilled: there was a $24 desk; $10 pie pans; a few spatulas; three small rugs; and the most expensive item, an $85 blue luggage set.
As you’d expect, there’s absolutely nothing lavish about the requests. They’re the humble beginnings of adulthood, the odds and ends most college freshmen pick up on a run to Target or Walmart with their family before kissing mom goodbye and moving into the dorm.
The wesbite's sleek but playful profile pages are peppered with personal information—ViQuan’s favorite food is mac and cheese (he doesn’t specify box or homemade)—and updates like who bought what item, almost always followed by a thank you, or other response from the youth.
In Facebook the vital stats you get are recent photographs, friends, and maybe work history. In the Camellia Network, profiles tout hopes and dreams. The top of every profile reads like a Madlib that makes your heart twist.