Foster youth help drive vaccine rollout in California
iFoster is a Stand Together Foundation nonprofit partner based in California that helps ensure every child in foster care has the resources and opportunities they need to succeed. In 2019, it launched the award-winning TAY (transition-age foster youth) AmeriCorps program to hire and train foster youth ages 14-18 to serve as peer resource navigators.
iFoster’sTAY initiative is supporting underserved populations with vaccine navigation through a virtual call center. Now, iFoster is hiring more than 200 TAY positions in Los Angeles and Santa Clara counties to fulfill demand for the program, which is the largest employment of foster youth by a single employer in any state.
In this interview, iFoster co-founder and its chief executive, Serita Cox, tells the story of her team’s vaccine support strategy and explains why community-led efforts are essential for public health.
How did your team identify the vaccine rollout as a good opportunity to get individuals from your TAY program involved?
In February, all 47 AmeriCorps programs in California began supporting equitable vaccine rollout in the state. Most of the programs provided logistics support at mega-sites, but we did not feel that was aligned with our program model or our youth’s professional development since there were barriers with transportation and COVID exposure.
Instead, we designed and pitched vaccine navigation support through a virtual call center, focused on supporting the most vulnerable patient populations, including approximately 2 million individuals in low-income, minority, and new immigrant communities.
We had success in 2020 with virtually connecting over 16,000 transition-age foster youth across 53 counties in California to resources they needed to succeed, so we felt we could replicate the virtual model for vaccine navigation as well.
Why is iFoster’s involvement in the vaccine effort critical?
iFoster partners with community clinics that serve the most vulnerable and marginalized populations in Los Angeles and Santa Clara counties, which make up 44% of all low-income populations in California.
California is struggling with equitable distribution of vaccines. Until now, they have not relied on delivery through community clinics, but have focused on mega-sites, which has predominantly served affluent white residents who have the means and transportation to get there. Equitable vaccination is fundamental for reaching herd immunity and getting back to normal.
However, community clinics are overwhelmed with calls from anxious community members with questions about COVID-19 and the vaccine. This is where iFoster can step in and play an important role. Our team of foster youth can take the load off of the clinics so they can focus on providing vaccines instead of answering questions and scheduling appointments.
How is iFoster’s program uniquely positioned to increase access to vaccines for underserved groups?
Our youth come from Los Angeles County and Santa Clara County, and are trusted messengers in their communities. They have disproportionately been affected by COVID, with many catching the virus themselves or having family members or friends severely suffer from the virus, so they understand the urgency and need.
Our youth are also multilingual. They’re able to speak Spanish, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Mandarin, Cantonese, Russian, Armenian, Hmong, and other languages to reach underserved groups.
In terms of effectiveness, we provide comprehensive training on basic job skills, resource navigation, virtual customer service, HIPAA compliance, and vaccine navigation. Clinics trust us to deploy a trained and ready workforce to answer inbound calls from their patients regarding questions about the vaccine and COVID-19, and to schedule vaccinations. Clinics also trust our youth to conduct outbound calls to invite patients to upcoming vaccine clinics and to confirm and remind patients of their appointment dates.
What has the response been from participants in the program?
We are simply blown away at the response. iFoster youth want this opportunity. They are eager to be of value to their community, and they have come prepared.
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Photo description: Los Angeles TAY AmeriCorps members receiving L.A. County Board of Supervisor’s Commendation from Supervisor Hilda Solis