By Gabrielle Tilley
Employment outcomes for youth transitioning out of foster care are less than hopeful, but the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is looking to a new pilot program to change that.
A California study found former foster youth to be 56 percent less likely than their low-income counterparts to be employed at age 24.
For this population, finding employment is crucial.
“Finding good full-time employment is a key factor in reducing the pipeline from foster care into homelessness,” said Wende Nichols-Julien, CEO at Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Los Angeles.
Half of youth in foster care who age out of the system end up homeless or incarcerated. Nichols-Julien said that to support these young people they need, “employers specifically seeking to hire, train and retain former foster youth.”
On February 14th of this year, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors moved to expand such opportunities with the Temporary Services Registry pilot project. Proposed by supervisors Hilda Solis and Janice Hahn, the pilot project creates a registry that connects residents facing barriers to employment to clerical service jobs in county departments. The pilot requires 51 percent of program participants to be “target workers” – 25 percent of which must be current or former foster youth.
In order to reach these populations, the registry will be piloted where target workers already receive services: the Departments of Public Social Services, Children and Family Services, Mental Health and Child Support Services.
This targeted approach is necessary for foster youth who are rarely connected to employment and often unfamiliar with appropriate workforce practices and professional behavior.
John Patrick Clancy, employment development specialist at Hillsides’ Youth Moving On transitional housing program in Pasadena, Calfi., works to support former foster and probation youth as they transition into adulthood. According to Clancy, barriers to employment go beyond lack of exposure.
“Many times these kids have been bounced around from home to home – probation to parole, with promises made that weren’t kept,” Clancy said. “They get the idea these systems are not to be trusted.” He added that children with undocumented parents are even more hesitant to seek supportive services. This presents a potential challenge to the program in reaching its target population.
For those open to working within a county department, the Board of Supervisors hopes the registry will provide valuable work experience and a path to long-term employment with the county or elsewhere. Furthermore, the program’s architects hope that by hiring the very populations these departments serve the county will improve the way it serves the community.
Clancy suggests success of the pilot program will depend on the depth of the training. Rather than simply finding foster youth a job, programs should be “working with people from A to Z to develop soft skills and practical job skills,” he said.
The 24-month pilot project is set to begin in April of this year. After two years the program will be evaluated based on the rate of participant retention and level of career advancement.