Is your next hire a former foster youth?

By Teresa Stivers

Finding local, hardworking employees with the right skill set and professional and personal acumen keeps many a recruiter awake at night.

As San Diego businesses know, recruiting and retaining good workers is an ongoing challenge. Many employers have had difficult experiences hiring young, under- and un-experienced employees. On the flip side, many former foster youth want to get on an employment course that will ensure their futures, but they don’t have the foundation to do so.

Helping improve our city’s workforce by providing employers with work-ready young adults while helping an underserved population — former foster youth — was once a lofty goal that we are now seeing become a reality.

When youth in the foster care system turn 18 years old, 65 percent do not have a place to call home. These young adults are also missing the essential structure, guidance and support as well as job and life skills training that parents typically provide.

Throughout California, programs are now being made available to help former foster youth become workforce ready that provide housing, training and support. Walden Family Services Transitional Housing Plus Foster Care (TH+FC) program, one of the first of its kind in California, is one such program that fills an important void by providing a stable environment where former foster youth can learn the skills they need to live independently and be employable.

Housing

The cost of housing in San Diego County keeps many potential employees from entering the local workforce or forces them to live a transient lifestyle that can affect their job performance. Transitional housing programs, including TH+FC, provide apartments for former foster youth participants, pay the rent and utilities and even arrange for furnishings. This keeps the young adults in a stable environment that is more conductive to steady employment and school attendance.

The program participants are responsible for maintaining the apartment and following all of the laws and apartment regulations. Drug and alcohol use is strictly forbidden. Social workers help them shop for and prepare meals. Because of the weekly visits and ongoing supervision provided by social workers, these young adults are held to higher standards of work, education and personal ethics than those that most 18 — 21 years old display.

Education and Employment

To be eligible for the TH+FC program, former foster youth ages 18 to 21 must be attending college or vocational school at least part-time or be working at least 80 hours a month. Some choose to do both. Social workers assist the young adults with applying for school, conducting a job search, filling out job applications and counseling them as to how to interview for a job. They also provide appropriate work uniforms and business or school attire. Many foster youth don’t know how to drive, so Walden links them to driver’s education as well as bus passes and gas cards so getting to and from work and school isn’t an issue.

Work and Life Skills

Former foster youth often struggle with issues from their childhood that affect them into adulthood. Receiving individual and group therapy that helps these young people deal with everyday stresses, including work and life balance, domestic violence, substance abuse, anger management and relationship issues is essential. They learn to get along with others and the appropriate skills for working out problems and disagreements, whether at work or at home. The TH+FC program provides this support.

The youth also learn to manage a budget and maintain a savings account in which they must deposit at least $25 each month so that they are prepared to live independently when they exit the program. They are also required to get regular physicals and dental cleanings to ensure that they are healthy for work and school.

Breaking the cycle of unemployment and homeless for former foster youth is a main goal of all transitional housing and post-foster care support programs. Participants receive high level support and skills training which, in turn, builds a foundation for them to be excellent employees and community members.

Imagine an entry-level workforce that is well prepared to accept the short and long-term challenges of work and home life, has ongoing support to deal with the hurdles of becoming an adult and lives in a secure and stable environment.

The success of the TH+FC program and others like it proves it is possible.

Whether you need an intern or a permanent employee, a former foster youth may be your next great hire.

Teresa Stivers is CEO of San Diego-based Walden Family Services. In addition to the TH+FC program, Walden provides traditional foster care and adoption services.