By Taryn Danford and Lucie Honey-Ray
Taryn Danford is the director of child, youth and family services and Lucie Honey-Ray is the AgedOut.com project lead at the Adoptive Families Association of BC (British Columbia). Taryn has led efforts to pilot programs related to community engagement, child rights, youth leadership, and cultural safety and practice. Under Lucie’s leadership, AgedOut.com has tripled in size and has engaged more than 1,500 youth in and from care to lead the continued development of AgedOut. For more information, visit https://www.bcadoption.com and https://www.agedout.com or contact the authors at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
In today’s world, time is the most precious commodity we have. As we manage our families’ busy schedules, multiple responsibilities, and work, we often lack time for learning, despite a sincere interest in it. At the same time, online resources have grown in leaps and bounds, and the internet has swiftly become the place where most of us go to find information. It provides ease in its 24-hours-a-day/365-days-a-year accessibility: we can access whenever we want without leaving the comfort of our own homes. But it can also be overwhelming to find exactly what you are looking for. We at the Adoptive Families Association of BC (AFABC) recognize this, and know that in a fast-paced world, where finding time for learning is a challenge, there is a need to offer online learning, tools, and resources that enhance busy people’s access to high-quality information no matter where they are.
For more than 40 years, the Adoptive Families Association of BC has been dedicated to finding families for children and youth and to providing programs that support the entire adoption and permanency community. At AFABC, we help build connections for prospective adopters, adoptive families, and youth with care experience by connecting them to timely resources, information, other community members, and education. We offer personalized supports, family events, and a variety of education tools and online platforms tailored to meet the needs of our users.
In the last few years, we have undertaken two innovative efforts to harness learning online—one called Adoption Basics for prospective adoptive parents and a second called AgedOut.com for youth in and from government care. Using community feedback, we created responsive, effective online resources and hope to inspire others supporting the permanency spectrum to do the same.
Historically, AFABC provided information about adoption and other forms of permanency only in face-to-face sessions for prospective adoptive parents across the province. Because of changes to the adoption process in British Columbia, a community need to drive more adoption resources online, and the launch of the provincial government’s online application process—the Adopt BC Kids Portal—the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) asked AFABC to design, develop, and manage an online version of the face-to-face information sessions for prospective adoptive parents. In 2016 and 2017, AFABC began developing an informational session (orientation) called Adoption Basics for individuals interested in accessing information online. (In-person sessions are still offered for those who need or prefer that option.)
Adoption Basics allows prospective adopters to understand the requirements of adoption and determine if they are a good fit to move toward the application process through the Adopt BC Kids Portal. Ideally provided as a self-screening tool, Adoption Basics helps prospective adopters answer the question: “Is adoption right for me?” and helps committed applicants move forward with the process. The overarching goal of Adoption Basics is to aid potential adoptive parents in making informed decisions about adoption.
Adoption Basics enables this by:
- Increasing access to appropriate and relevant information regarding adoption
- Improving knowledge about the basics of adoption in British Columbia
- Increasing awareness about the support services AFABC offers
To create a useful online resource for adults considering adoption, we researched the content needs of prospective adoptive parents, asking what information they needed about requirements, process, and needs of children that would strengthen their decision-making options and choices. To ensure the content was relevant, targeted, and effective in educating and informing people about their adoptive options, we completed interviews with 13 people, including MCFD social workers and consultants, prospective adoptive parents, adoption agency leaders, and Indigenous groups. We asked questions about access to current training, content topics, the best way to present information to prospective parents, and specific challenges in how information about adoption is presented.
After the initial research was completed, we developed the content based on the feedback and insights generated through the interviews and earlier customer journey work. We identified eight core topics to cover:
- Adoption in British Columbia
- Adopting from foster care
- Local agency infant adoption
- International adoption
- Parenting considerations
- Child and youth considerations
- Next steps
Engaging our community provided critical information that inspired us to create content that was easy to understand, actionable, and interactive. We included videos of real adoptive families, clickable graphics, checklists, and additional resources to help prospective parents every step of the way. Frequent consultations with MCFD helped ensure the information shared was harmonious with MCFD policies and legal considerations. A test version of Adoption Basics was launched in March 2018.
Over a period of six months, AFABC and MCFD issued social media and e-news requests for participants to test the orientation. During that time, 45 respondents tested the orientation and provided feedback on their experience through an online survey that asked 19 questions. Overall, 100 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they found the information they were looking for. 92 percent of respondents strongly agreed or agreed that they had a better understanding of the basics of adoption, 100 percent of respondents agreed that the information would be useful for those considering adoption, and 96 percent agreed that they would recommend Adoption Basics to others.
This test phase allowed us to further refine our information and really help prospective parents answer the question: “Is adoption for me?”
In November 2018, AFABC completed the last refresh to the orientation, and launched the current version of Adoption Basics. This refresh included updating video content and addressing specific technical challenges mobile users faced when downloading the orientation. Currently it takes prospective adopters about 45 minutes to review the information available. In the first month of being available to the general public, Adoption Basics was viewed more than 2,000 times.
Between December 2018 and October 2019, Adoption Basics has been viewed an additional 500+ times, without major promotion or campaigning. This demonstrates the effectiveness of providing an easy-to-access online adoption orientation. We know through client inquiries driven to AFABC’s other resources that individuals are exploring more after completing Adoption Basics and believe they are using that knowledge to make informed decisions about whether to advance with an adoption application.
Shortly before beginning its effort to launch Adoption Basics, AFABC partnered with MCFD to explore the needs of youth and young adults who were in care or had recently left care. We began by talking to the young people themselves about what information they needed and how they wanted to receive it. While we were not surprised to hear what young people needed—support in navigating housing, education, health, and finances—the revelation came in how they wanted this support. Young people wanted a one-stop online warehouse to access the most current information when they needed it.
They also wanted something that was easy to use. Early in our consultations, the youth quickly identified that their top barrier to accessing information about aging out of care was their frustration in wading through dozens of websites to find relevant information, followed closely by them then not understanding how to interpret the information. We know how difficult and time consuming it can be to find appropriate, research-driven, and fact-based information online—youth experience these frustrations ten-fold as they are expected to navigate this difficult online world without training, research skills, or years of experience developing their ability to know fact from fiction.
To counter this challenge and answer the needs of young people, AFABC—in partnership with youth—created AgedOut.com, a unique online platform with relevant information about all things important to youth aging out of government care.
Interactive, Comprehensive Content
Launched in June 2015, AgedOut. com has rapidly become the place for young people in and from care to find up-to-date information about things important to their journey to becoming successful adults. The site contains numerous information and service pages under six topic headings: housing, education, health, finances, ID needs, and personal life. We use online learning quests, which are animated life skills experiences, to educate users on what they need to know in an engaging way. We even go a step further and provide opportunities for youth to learn how to cook, find housing, seek employment, and navigate the education system.
The site has a gamified approach that makes learning fun. For example, youth can use emoticons to state how they feel and collect badges for clicking on information or watching videos. Youth from British Columbia who are or have been in care also have the opportunity to earn up to $150 in gift card rewards from places such as Amazon, the Body Shop, Walmart, gas stations, and grocery stores.
When we began building the site, the young people we worked with provided detailed guidelines about what would work best for them. From the topic headings and name, to the colours and design, young people’s voices were (and still are) central to all developments on AgedOut.com. We learned early in the development stages that youth in care are more likely to respond to messages from their peers. Therefore, all the videos on the site feature youth from care sharing their experiences on specific topics.
Based on their wisdom, AFABC also created a style guide that, to this day, makes the site valuable and responsive to their needs. One example is our two-click-of-the-mouse rule: when we send young people to outside websites, we never use more than two clicks to get them exactly where they need to be. This may sound easy, but we have learned it is not, especially when referring to government websites. Another rule we follow is that everything we write on AgedOut.com needs to be in youth-friendly language—meaning it is simple, easy to understand, and in short concise sentences. Last year, AFABC was challenged to incorporate an Indigenous lens to future developments and has now added this to its style guide with great success.
Today, the site has more than 4,100 users, half of whom are young people in and from care, aged 16 to 29. An in-depth user evaluation, completed in 2018, shows that 93 percent of youth on our site found what they were looking for; and trends in data show they regularly access the site between 6 pm and 6 am. 98 percent of youth surveyed reported the information was easy to understand, and 96 percent found the site easy to navigate.
Based on feedback from youth who use the site, it continues to evolve with new assets, such as information pages and animated quests. We also continue to engage with our provincial government ministries to preserve the site’s reputation as the place for young people in and from care to access current information.
AgedOut.com is highly cost effective. Not including the consultation and development stages, AgedOut.com costs $51 per user per year for 24/7/365 access to information and learning, demonstrating that effective online learning does not need to be expensive.
Overall, we know that technology is a driving force in learning and education needs. We also know that without consulting the communities of which we hope to serve, any educational offering can be tokenistic and easily dismissed. As new generations of prospective adoptive parents emerge and the needs of youth aging out of government care become more complex, it is critical that family- and youth-serving organizations adapt to the needs of our clients.