Promoting Work Success for Youth Transitioning from Foster Care
A young man sits across the room from two executives, telling them why he wants to work for their chain of grocery stores. The scene may sound familiar to anyone who’s ever landed a job interview, but this job seeker’s circumstances are far from ordinary. At age 20, he is poised to age out of California’s foster care system, and this practice interview is part of a four-week program designed to help him find workplace success.
The iFoster Jobs Program began in 2015 to help youth aging out of foster care avoid common pitfalls like homelessness by finding work in the grocery industry. The organization currently partners with eight employers who agree to interview iFoster participants for available positions. Young people also meet regularly with iFoster staff to learn the professional skills they’ll need on the job and to address potential obstacles that may prevent them from maintaining steady work.
“We know that having a permanent job, with guaranteed hours, can provide the income that foster care youth need in order to be successful in their transition [to adulthood],” says Executive Director Serita Cox. “We recognize our youth, by the nature of how they grew up, need a comprehensive program, which is not just [teaching them] how to write a resume.”
More than a Job Search
Part of what makes iFoster unique, Cox says, is its ability to address many factors that can impact young people’s ability to work. For example, a young adult may find a job, but stop showing up if they lack reliable transportation or the right clothes. To address problems before they start, iFoster collaborates with child welfare agencies that can connect youth to concrete resources such as housing support, transportation, child care, and cell phones.
iFoster also works regularly with a network of employers offering a range of local jobs with different skillsets. These ongoing relationships help iFoster staff members prepare young people for the needs of a specific employer, Cox says, and to understand each company’s culture. Youth also learn which jobs might lead to additional benefits down the road, such as leadership opportunities and college scholarships.
According to Cox, demand for workers is outpacing supply, with employers continually seeking out more iFoster youth to interview. This need stems from a growing number of jobs and past participants’ success. In the past year, iFoster youth received 12 promotions, and one was named employee of the year, she says.
Embracing the Power of Alumni
Across the country in Largo, Maryland, the Fostering Change Network Foundation takes a different approach to prepare youth for professional success. The group of consultants is poised to host its 2016 Alumni Powerhouse Networking Conference, the first national professional conference planned for former foster care youth by foster care alumni and adoptees.
Both the network and its conference speak to the power of creating organic networks of support and opportunity for youth with histories of foster care involvement, says Founder Shalita O’Neale. By partnering with mentors who have shared similar experiences, young people can learn about different careers and the steps needed to pursue them.
Connecting alumni with other alumni creates a powerful bond and sense of trust, O’Neale adds, while showing young people that success is attainable. “Having role models and mentors makes all the difference,” she says. “If you can’t see yourself in someone who is successful, then you won’t think you can do it.”