How a Special Curriculum Focuses on the Unique Needs of Foster Youth Entering the Workforce

A group of child welfare providers in L.A. County developed a career readiness curriculum for foster youth that is now in use across the county. Photo: Dominque Ross

In Los Angeles County, a unique philanthropic arrangement helped a group of local nonprofits build one of the country’s only specialized curriculum designed to help foster youth gain a solid foothold in the workforce.

The Transition-Age Youth World of Work (TAY WOW) curriculum is now in use across the county’s youth workforce systems, which has helped boost employment-related outcomes for transition-age foster youth who participate, according to a new report.

The Los Angeles Transition-Age Youth Collaborative — a group composed of local providers Hathaway-Sycamores, Hillsides, St. Anne’s, Youth Emerging (then known as Los

Angeles Youth Network) and Pacific Clinics — was formed about 10 years ago. Launched and supported by the Carl and Roberta Deutsch Foundation, the organizations hoped to make a bigger impact in helping more foster youth find and keep a job, an area in which they were all working already. They decided to create a specialized curriculum that would prepare transition-age foster youth for the workforce, taking into account the unique barriers that foster youth face.

Nationally, the unemployment rate for youths aged 20 to 24 was about 6.9 percent in 2018, but the unemployment rate for California youth in foster care at age 21 is 43 percent, according to recent research from Mark Courtney’s California Youth Transitions to Adulthood Study.

Foster youth often miss out on the opportunity to learn and mirror healthy habits around employment and entering the workforce.

“We all grew up watching our parents get ready for work in the morning,” says Correnda Perkins of Hillsides in the report. “If they were late, they were rushing or running through the house, so we all got to see what it was like.”

Barriers like mental health, substance abuse, housing and childcare are all substantial issues preventing many youth from entering and succeeding on the job. Childhood traumas can also be triggered on the job, causing many foster youth to struggle at obtaining and retaining a job.

The TAY WOW curriculum provides young people with the soft skills necessary to help them manage interpersonal issues on the job, as well as other basics like how to create a resume and prepare for an interview. The curriculum is delivered by trained facilitators, as well as in a group format that helps young people gain peer support by sharing experiences in the workforce, job leads and other updates. Support staff are also trained to provide wrap-around supports that help youth maintain employment, like housing.

Another vital aspect of the TAY Collaborative’s curriculum is its job-training program. Thanks to philanthropic support and community partners, youth in the program are able to gain hands-on experience and practice skills learned during their training thanks to a paid internship program. The prospect of paid work serves as a motivating factor for youth to participate in the program.

“We’re setting up our youth to succeed after they leave our agencies, and that’s what really sets us apart,” said Amanda Yard, a senior director of Youth Support Services at the L.A. Youth Network.

According to an evaluation from the Workplace Center at the Columbia School of Social Work, the TAY WOW Curriculum “increased career readiness, contributed to a positive change in participants’ career development, helped transition older youth into jobs and helped younger youth maintain school and connect with work experience.”

That success has helped spread the TAY WOW curriculum across L.A. County’s workforce continuum. As of 2018, more than 1,300 different youth in the county. have participated in the workplace training program, with three quarters of those enrolled being former or current foster youth. The organization reports that enrollees have seen an increase of 22.4 percent in employment and a 21 percent increase in their average wages earned.

The TAY Collaborative partnered with Opportunity Youth Collaborative and 16 other members across the county in 2017, and the TAY WOW curriculum is now offered at most workforce investment boards in the county, as well as through other partners like the Los Angeles Unified School District. Further expansions to the program have included trainings for the unemployed, young parents, youth who’ve dropped out or are at-risk for dropping out of high school, and youth involved with the juvenile justice system.

Read the report here.


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