Think of Us

They provide resources to foster care youth so they can take control of their destinies.

How they started.

Sixto Cancel started Think of Us to legitimately make a dent on the earth. While initially intended for young people "aging out" of foster care, their platform also leverages data to strengthen critical relationships in foster care, create better worlds for adolescents and young adults, and radically transform the entire foster care system.

Why did you choose to tackle foster care?

I grew up in the foster care system — I was in there at 11 months old. By the age of nine, I was adopted. But it was an abusive and unhealthy situation. By the time I was 13, I was couch surfing. 

When I reentered foster care at 15, I was being prepared to “age out”. To be ready for life after high school — on my own. But I thought about my siblings and friends who weren’t being prepared in the same way, and that bothered me. 

There’s this thought that the government makes this promise they’ll provide you with a safe and better life. But that’s just not the case sometimes. For some, foster care is rough. It’s not for everyone. 

I was enticed by the thought of empowering young people to be at the center of their own lives. By identifying the goals, action steps, and building their own personal advisory board so they can become who they’re really meant to be. 

What made you believe technology would help toward solving this problem?

I began to realize technology empowers people. It gives them the information they need to respond to certain situations. It gives them access to programs that allow them to really start taking control of their lives. And for those who don’t have a voice, technology gives them a platform for them to speak from. 

Technology lets us know where we’re headed. But in some ways, technology reminds us we’re already here.

And so, through that, we made sure the Think of Us platform is the first AI, machine-learning hope for navigating the foster care system. 

Who is your platform for?

First, it’s for young people in the foster care system. They can use it to begin building out what life will look like in their 20s. Everybody asks, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” For somebody who is aging out of foster care, answering that question at 18 requires getting really concrete really fast.  

So at 20, you want to be in college, making enough money to support yourself in a two-bedroom apartment — with a car. Or you want to be in a studio, you don’t need a car, and you just need X, Y, and Z. 

If it’s not that concrete, it’s going to be difficult for somebody that age. But that’s where the platform helps. You get in, you build yourself a personal advisory board to support you as you work toward your goals and milestones. The board can be teachers, coaches, family members, and whoever can help keep you on track. 

Second, it’s for social workers and foster care staff who work with these young people. It’s essentially a client portal where the young person can check in with these critical team members to check on milestones and requests and find answers to their questions. 

How does Think of Us help users navigate some heavier personal issues?

When we think about the content we present to young people, there are two buckets to think of. The first bucket asks: “What do normal adolescents and emerging adults require?” In other words, what are the all the topics that need to be discussed for this group of people? 

Then there’s this other bucket: “How do we help people navigate specific systems that they find themselves in?” This content will range from managing your dollars to sex education to what individual rights look like. 

What did you want to be when you grow up? 

I always envisioned myself being a policy advocate — because I’m very much a policy and practice nerd. And technology has greatly influenced how I can do this effectively. 

Technology lets us know where we’re headed. But in some ways, technology reminds us we’re already here.

Sixto Cancel, Think of Us CEO

How do you measure success?

Traditional marketing metrics don’t necessarily tell the whole story for us. For example, a young person typically has to see a judge every six months to check in and see how foster care is going. So they’ll take this time to express whether they want to take an SAT course soon, or they want to go home, or they might consider adoption. This is a particularly huge conversation, because the judge will hold child welfare responsible for what’s presented at the meetings. 

Before Think of Us, the judge only got other these requests and updates through the foster care staff in charge of these cases. Now, judges can use our platform to explore requests and updates directly from the foster care youth. Even if the young person only uses the app every six months to share requests and updates — that’s huge! It’s transparency and impact that didn’t necessarily exist before. 

So the app’s success isn’t necessarily measure by traditional “usage” metrics? 

Correct. Usage is what people have measured day in and day out. Instead, what we focus on is influence. How do we measure the influence of the person using this app versus how often they use it? 

So is Think of Us more than just an app?

Oh definitely. At the core, yes, it’s an application. The portal allows for young people and their advisory board members and critical staff to interact and share information. 

But that’s only half the story: we're also taking all this data to transform and optimize the entire foster care system. So we’re beginning to deeply understand what social workers are doing, what young people are doing, what people in the lives of these young people are doing. We leverage the data to do real-time strategy. 

For example, if 60% of our young people are looking at coping videos and 10% of them are enrolled in therapeutic services, we’ll try to find ways to optimize that enrollment. Because it’s an opportunity to heal and to get better on their journey. 

In the past, how do allow social workers to prescribe what’s best for young people in foster care? What we’re doing is flipping the script: how do we allow young people in foster care take matters into their own hands and let the world how to be useful in their own lives? The data allows us to create that world for them. 

What are you listening to right now?

Definitely my gospel music. I’m not really into artists specifically — I’m into seasons. I use gospel music almost as my personal meditation. What you’ll hear in the car on any given day is a reflection of what’s going on in my life, basically. 

What’s the best breakfast you’ve ever had?

Forget breakfast! My favorite meal? Hands down — Jamaican curry chicken. Or some good ol’ mac and cheese.  

If you could change one thing in the world right now, what would it be?

It would be for people to care about the well-being of youth and families as much as they care about sports. I would be so happy. The world would be radically different for it. 

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