Skip Navigation
Back to Navigation

Improving Library Services to Foster Children

← Back

Improving Library Services to Foster Children

San Mateo County Library, Calif.

Customer Experience | 2013

Innovation Summary

The purpose of this project is to connect foster children to existing San Mateo County Library (SMCL) programs and services and to develop programming in order to support improved outcomes for foster children; this project will also work to communicate the crisis in foster care to the larger community in order to connect foster children to expanded resources and support.

Problem Statement

After beginning to work with community partners, the specific needs of San Mateo County foster children have become clearer. There are significant barriers to library usage and card registration for foster children (including parental consent requirements, unstable residencies, etc.). Group homes in San Mateo County report that they have had staff sign for library cards for the children in their care and some homes have made it against policy for staff to sign for cards due to financial liability issues. One of the first initiatives of this project will be to adjust SMCL policy (and eventually make the policy effective throughout our larger consortium, the Peninsula Library System) in order to make obtaining a library card easier for foster children. Foster children have academic needs that the library is well-situated to meet through a variety of tactics. For example, only 46% of foster youth complete high school (Barriers Facing Foster Care Youth), and group home staff and other service providers have communicated the need for academic support, computer instruction and job opportunities. This project will connect foster youth to existing library tutoring services and other educational and recreational programming. Additionally, this project will implement new outreach programming tailored to the needs of foster youth. For example, youth in group homes have extremely limited access to technology, so a component of this project will be computer classes. Building or augmenting on-site and personal libraries in group homes and facilitating book talks, book clubs and author visits can help instill a love of reading and learning, while giving foster youth much-needed peer support as well as access to books and a personal library. Many foster youth also struggle to build job skills, so we will also be expanding SMCL’s hosting of STEP (Supported Training and Employment Program) foster youth interns through San Mateo County Human Service Agency and encouraging volunteering at the library for foster youth. Providing greater access to existing library services and tailoring services specifically for foster children will help support this underserved population; bringing greater awareness of the issue to the larger community can help connect foster children with the adult relationships they need.


The first step in this project will be to develop a foster child library card policy for San Mateo County Library that relaxes parent/guardian requirements and waives fees and fines. A longer term goal will be to get other libraries in our consortium, Peninsula Library System (PLS), to adopt the policy so that all libraries in San Mateo County (county, city and community colleges) are accessible to foster children, regardless of what jurisdiction they live in or which branch they visit. Library card registration will be promoted alongside all other activities. The three other areas of this project will include: Communicating the crisis in foster care to the community through the following activities: - Adult book clubs throughout SMCL will read foster care-related titles. CASA staff, volunteers and/or ex-foster youth will come and speak with book club groups. - One large-scale author event will be co-sponsored by SMCL, San Mateo County Human Services Agency (HSA) and CASA of San Mateo (Court-Appointed Special Advocates). The author will have written on a foster care, parenting and/or child development-related topic, and HSA and CASA will speak about the needs they see in the local community. - SMCL branches will host the Bay Area Heart Gallery exhibit, a professional photography exhibit consisting of photographs of children and youth living in foster care in need of adoptive families and permanent lifelong relationships. - Promotion of all activities in the project to the public through blog posts, press releases, social media, etc. Promoting existing on-site library services to the foster care community through the following activities: - Work with staff to give foster children high priority in receiving tutoring from existing programs (i.e., Teen Leader Reader, Paws for Tales, QUEST). - Regularly promote appropriate on-site library programming to group home staff, case managers, foster parents and others. - Engage foster youth in volunteer opportunities available at the library to help develop job skills. - Adjust current offerings as necessary to increase relevance and accessibility to foster children. Creating pilot programs and services to the foster care community, including: - Increase hosting of STEP (Supported Training and Employment Program) interns by SMCL, working in partnership with San Mateo County HSA and Human Resources. - Hold book clubs, book talks, author events and computer classes for foster youth, particularly targeting those in group homes and the CASA program. - Create or supplement personal and institution-based (i.e., group home) libraries for foster youth. - Investigate other opportunities to reach and support foster youth.


50% of foster children who receive library cards will become active library users, as measured by surveys to foster youth. Communicating the crisis in foster care to the community: - County HSA, CASA and other program staff will report the number of individuals who indicate an interest in volunteering and/or becoming a foster parent as a result of library efforts. Tailor and promote existing on-site library services to the foster care community: - Foster children who participate in the library’s tutoring services will show increased academic achievement, as measured by the outcome tools SMCL tutoring programs use currently. - Foster children who attend library programs and/or who volunteer at the library will report increased knowledge of, interest in and positive opinions of the library and its programs and services, as measured by surveys. - Foster youth volunteer will develop basic job skills, including keeping to a schedule and following through on instructions, as reported by volunteer supervisors. Create pilot programs and services to the foster care community: - STEP interns will report learning important job skills and will develop an in-depth understanding of what library work entails as measured by surveys and exit interviews. - STEP intern supervisors will confirm that interns’ work behaviors changed and developed throughout the course of the internship, as measured by post-internship interviews. - Foster youth who attend computer classes will increase their understanding of computer use and topics, as measured by surveys. - Foster youth who attend book talks and book clubs and receive books for their home collections will report increased interest reading, as measured by surveys. - Group home staff will report that institution-based collections are valued and used. Best practices will be shared with the larger library community and other libraries will also examine their services to foster youth.