The Ylitse project by SOS Lapsikylä connects young parents from a child protection background (mentees) to mentors from the same background who have the time to help and have been trained on how to. The Ylitse App supports this process, by allowing the mentees to find suitable mentors, connect with them and get chat advice anonymously.
SOS Children's Villages is an international organisation that focuses on helping children who have lost parental care or are in danger of losing it. SOS Lapsikylä is the Finnish branch of the organisation. Ylitse is a project by SOS-Lapsikylä aiming to prevent the multi-generational need for child protection, a fenomenon by which children of parents with a child protection background are more likely to become child protection customers themselves.
Katarina Pursi and Oskari Savisalo are the initiators and drivers of the project at SOS-Lapsikylä. Both Katarina and Oskari have extensive practical experience of working in child protection.
Children and young people who have been customers of the foster care are vulnerable also later in their lives. Studies prove that they are at high risk of remaining at a low level of education, unemployed, socially supported. They also have a high risk of mental health and substance abuse problems, and overall high mortality rate (low lifetime expectancy). They very rarely have tightly-knit support network from the family and close ones.
After a series of 20 workshops with young adults grown in foster care, Katarina and Oskari had gained a good grasp on the types of problems they face in early adulthood and the type of support they need. Peer support and being able to get help regardless of the time and place have been identified as important elements. Because of this, Katarina and Oskari were interested in a digital service to both directly support this target group and provide a channel for peer support.
There were still many open questions though. What should the service be, exactly? Would the target group find it? Would they see its value? Would they use it? Even if they used it, would the peer support help people efficiently enough to prevent the multi-generational need for child protection?
This was the project status when our collaboration started.
We started the work with a Service Vision Sprint together with Oskari and Katarina. This was focused on two main goals: one was to validate the need with actual potential users and the other was to understand precisely what kind of service to build for them.
The only trouble was, potential users were as elusive for us as we could have feared. Sure, we found people from foster care background to interview and they liked the peer support idea; but their situation was already under control and they had good ties with SOS-Lapsikylä. How about those who were in most trouble, on the edge of disaster? Or those who had lost their faith in getting any kind of help via public services? Would they find the service and start using it?
We could not either validate nor invalidate properly our assumptions.
After being stuck and on hold for about two weeks, we decided to just go for it and move on to the design and build phase. The high potential for impact of the project, combined with the partial validation we had, were good enough reasons to take the bet.
The concept: a simple app to connect mentors and mentees from the same foster care background, allowing safe and anonymous communication on the mentee side.
The design for the service was done by Futurice designers. The implementation was done in collaboration with the Software Development Project course from Aalto University. The Product Owner role was shared between Ylitse and Futurice.
The service was launched in Beta mode in October 2018. At the time of this writing there are not yet results to be shared.
If the project proves successful, SOS-Lapsikylä will likely keep it in continuous use in Finland. As the project is open source and the first of its kind in this field, there are also possibilities to take it into use in other countries and for similar purposes.