Two Foster Care Survivors Advocate for Change by Providing Housing for Aging Out Youth

Two Foster Care Survivors Advocate for Change by Providing Housing for Aging Out Youth

Francione Sousa Neff, the Founder and CEO of the Hope Foundation For Foster Youth Housing, knows firsthand the challenges children in foster care face. Originally from Brazil, Francione was raised primarily by her grandmother and entered the foster care system at age 13 to escape an abusive home environment from her mother. For five years, Francione endured emotional abuse and constant housing instability as she was shuffled between foster homes.  

Despite the trauma, Francione managed to graduate high school and pursued opportunities in the United States. However, the scars from her turbulent childhood remained. It wasn't until a chance encounter with a foster care advocacy poster that Francione had an epiphany—she realized she had been a foster child herself. In that moment, she found her calling: to advocate for and empower other youth who shared her experiences in the system.  

Francione's vision ultimately birthed Hope Foundation For Foster Youth Housing, a nonprofit dedicated to providing housing resources and support to young adults transitioning out of foster care. The organization's mission is to give youth aging out of the system the tools they need to overcome past traumas, gain stability, and transform their lives.  

Cassidy's Resilience and Empowering Mission  

One young woman who embodies that transformative mission is Cassidy Littleton, Hope Foundation's 24-year-old treasurer. Like Francione, Cassidy spent two stints in foster care during her childhood. The first began at age 11 due to both parents' drug use and neglect, and her second entrance into the foster care system came after Cassidy and her sister reported their father for abuse and neglect. Although Cassidy recognizes the necessity of foster care in dire situations, her time in the system was marked by instability and loss. Shuffled between homes every few months, Cassidy struggled to form meaningful connections. She also endured the sudden loss of her older brother to suicide shortly after entering care. His death broke her heart and sent her down a destructive path.  

It wasn't until high school that Cassidy found purpose in sharing her story to help other foster youth. Through public speaking, advocacy work, and higher education, Cassidy overcame statistics that only 3% of foster children graduate college. Her passion for uplifting others led her to join Francione in establishing Hope Foundation For Foster Youth Housing. Cassidy's personal journey resonates deeply with the organization's mission to empower foster youth aging out of care.  

While stories like Francione and Cassidy's are heartbreakingly common among youth aging out of foster care, these two exceptional women refused to let their past define them. Through determination and resilience, they overcame monumental odds to not only achieve personal success, but also devote their lives to uplifting other foster youth.  

Turning Adversity into Hope  

Hope Foundation For Foster Youth Housing aims to provide housing resources and emotional support during an extremely vulnerable time. Approximately 20,000 youth age out of foster care each year in the U.S. without the safety net of a forever family or permanent home. Suddenly independent at 18 or 21, depending on the state, many of these young adults face homelessness, unemployment, mental health issues, early pregnancy, incarceration, and more.  

Haunting statistics show that only 3% of former foster youth will earn a college degree, 20% will become instantly homeless, and nearly 30% of young women will become pregnant by 21. The deck is clearly stacked against them through no fault of their own. Hope Foundation's programs seek to provide practical resources and training to help level the playing field.  

One innovative effort is the "Bag of Hope," inspired by the feelings of worthlessness fostered by the black trash bags used to transport foster children's belongings. Each Bag of Hope contains inspirational books, information on health and financial literacy, life coaching resources, and more tools to empower youth aging out of the system. Life coaches help youth process past traumas in a healthy way and cultivate a mindset of resilience.  

Hope Foundation also provides housing deposits and basic household items to help secure apartments or dorm rooms for foster alumni through their "Foster Children Housing Loan Project." Obtaining housing is often the biggest barrier facing youth post-care. The organization removes this obstacle and allows youth to establish that critical foundation—their first true home.  

Fostering Hope for Home   

Francione emphasizes that obtaining not just housing but a sense of home is paramount. "Since they are placed in the care system, they never had a house, they never had a place to call home. At least when they age out, we should give them the means to go home," says Francione. For her, the Hope Foundation represents the belief that with proper support, these youth can overcome the past and create their own homes and families. They can become leaders and change-makers in their communities.  

Cassidy firmly agrees. "I remember growing up, to be honest, I never thought I moved 30 to 40 times as a child. I lived in homeless shelters, in cars, and with strangers. It wasn't until I was an adult and had my first apartment that I could say I had a home. This experience is so unattainable for many people, especially those who come out of foster care."  

Hope Foundation strives to make that simple dream of home a reality. Cassidy shares, "What I love about this foundation is truly doing everything that we could possibly do to say, here's everything that you need. Here you go, here's your hope."   

Offering that kind of hope and tangible help to foster youth aging out has been Francione's vision since the beginning. She believes this vulnerable population deserves not just policy change but hands-on support from people who deeply understand their struggles. Francione channels her own traumatic experiences into empowering youth she now considers family.  

"Everything starts with hope, right? Everything starts with taking action," Francione stresses. "I believe in the power of actions. And if there is something that happened to the next generation, I have to do something." Her advice to those feeling hopeless in the wake of adversity: "You still have a choice. My choice is I am in control of my life."  

Francione transformed her pain into purpose through the Hope Foundation. Cassidy did the same by turning her heartbreaking experiences into advocacy that changed lives. They urge others not to let hardship or trauma define them.   

As Cassidy says, "There is absolutely nothing about your past or your adversity or your bad stuff that is unlovable." She continues, "If you can figure out for yourself what it looks like to respond with an opposite spirit, respond with love, respond with hope. That is what makes the world a better place."  

Hope Foundation for Foster Youth Housing remains dedicated to spreading that spirit of resilience, restoration, and possibility to youth aging out of care. Francione sums up their ethos poignantly: "Get your mess and turn it into a message to the world." Through compassion and action, the organization transforms mess into meaning and empowers foster youth to take control of their futures.  

The Editorial Team

The Editorial Team

Hi there, we're the editorial team at WomELLE. We offer resources for business and career success, promote early education and development, and create a supportive environment for women. Our magazine, "WomLEAD," is here to help you thrive both professionally and personally.

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