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Fostering Success

Foster Skills is a social enterprise dedicated to empowering foster children to beat the odds, follow their dreams, and become successful, productive citizens. Foster youth have worse life outcomes than the at-risk, opportunity youth population. Within one year of leaving the foster care system, - by the age of 19 - Sixty-six percent of foster youth will end up homeless, in jail, or dead, which is extremely disconcerting. What is more, less than 50% of foster youth will graduate from high school and only 3% graduate from college. At Foster Skills we are working to empower all foster youth to beat the odds, follow their dreams, and become successful, productive citizens.

Photo of Justine Fischer
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Foster Skills is in the process of piloting a program to create direct pathways to the workforce for foster kids. We have created writing, math, and computer skills tests on Smarterer that are approved by employers, which will create direct pathways to the workforce. Research shows: If a child is able to communicate (write) and think critically (math), they can succeed in the workplace, especially with basic computer knowledge. These are transferable skills that will entice employers to hire our kids in foster care. We will then, secure dress clothes; put on career panels, networking events, and set-up rides for foster youth to get to interviews.

Most foster youth are homeless and jobless. Therefore, teaching them skills that will allow them to get a job and a place to stay is the best way to start helping them beat the odds. Our hope is that they will want to succeed at their job and get promoted; then they will be encouraged to get more education.

The reason for piloting the program was two-fold: 1. Research suggests that children (pre-aging out of foster care) who attain a job post graduating from high school have a better chance of becoming their own self-advocate. A foster youth holding a job is one of the indicators that s/he will become stable. 2. Our soft skills program models relied on self-survey data without necessarily having hard data that would directly benefit the child beyond showing an increased level of socio-emotional growth.

Therefore, we create direct pathways to the workforce by improving (and then quantifying) their skills sets in mechanical writing, basic algebra, and computer skills.

We have conducted focus groups with current foster kids, met with DCF, and potential employers. In addition, we have connected with the Aspen Institute and Opportunity Nation’s Workforce Development Group. We developed a project plan and curriculum. We have informally helped high-functioning foster kids gain employment and realize the benefits of helping them to get employed. Now, we just have to create the Smarterer tests with HR departments of future employers of foster youth and get their approval. We’ve pitched the program at group homes/ drop-in centers, foster kids are asking to participate in our program. Our future impact: pilot an 8-week intensive program with foster youth who are still on voluntary foster care; conduct pre- and post-assessments with the hope of increasing their skills sets; get them networking and understanding work place etiquette; then get them all offers.

MarketplaceTeenForce - a nonprofit in California that is led by John Hogan - is working to tackle the teen employment problem. As a favor to a friend last year, John generated 100 jobs for foster youth with the help of the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce. Also, More Than Words, a social enterprise in Massachusetts, hires foster youth to work at bookstores. However, there does not exist an organization exclusively working to help foster kids. Foster Skills is showing the value that foster kids can provide to future employers by quantifying their skill sets. And, more importantly, none of the organizations are led by a successful foster kid. FS is!

Research and analysis of foster care shows that many children age out of the system with a lack of skills which hinders there ability to grow and take hold of available opportunities to further their success. Findings have shown that of foster youth who age out of the system one in four will be incarcerated within the first two years, approximately 58% have a high school degree at 19, and only 3% over the age of 25 will have earned a college degree. Discharged young adults were twice as likely as those remaining in care to be unemployed and out of school and three times more likely than the national sample.[1] These findings make it evident that as a society we need to work towards addressing these problems. Foster youth are not emancipating prepared for success and with our organization’s workforce development program we hope to change that.

[1] The Pew Charitable Trusts. "Time For Reform: Aging Out And On Their Own." Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative. 
 

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Photo of Umrah

Justine, I thank you for bringing a topic that for me is a bit shrouded in mystery and heavy in stereotypes into the spotlight. Based on your data, it is easy to understand why this specific youth population would be such a inspiring area to direct focus, as well as having quantifiable impacts in actual workforce placement and emotional feedback. I would love to learn more about the potential opportunities for the public to engage in this program, perhaps through the various stages you mentioned including: securing interview-appropriate dress clothes, organizing career panels and networking events, as well the simple practical needs of securing safe and efficient transportation to and from the interviews and perhaps with the physical support and presence of a mentor/adult. There seems to be many avenues of potential assistance the public could contribute towards to assist in the foster child's potential for success. Awesome work! Excited to see this one evolve.

Photo of Justine

Thank you! I love your ideas about leveraging the public and think that it is definitely something I should look into in more depth!