Each year, more than 500 young people in Kentucky age out of the foster care system. Because they have not found permanency through parental reunification, permanent legal custody, or adoption, these youth are often left with few safety nets. Years of out-of-home care and the instability of multiple placements means they frequently do not have the skills needed to successfully transition to independent living. Compared to their peers, foster youth are less likely to know how to interview for a job, manage a budget, locate housing, or pay bills. This leaves them at a serious disadvantage and puts them at higher risk of unemployment and homelessness.
Enter the Fostering Success and Earn and Learn programs at the University of Kentucky College of Social Work. Housed in the College’s Training Resource Center, these programs actively seek to empower current and former foster youth to create their own journey to self-sufficiency and stability.
The 10-week Fostering Success Program is a workforce development initiative aimed at current and former foster youth between the ages 18 and 23. The statewide program is structured to provide youth with the opportunity to develop on-the-job skills through a paid internship at a local business or Department of Community Based Services (DCBS) office. Participants are matched with Job Coaches who assist them with professional development and career planning support. The Fostering Success Program is foundationally rooted in the premise that employment, education, and training best occur along a wholistic continuum, and thus positively impact the challenges former foster youth face.
While the program is typically completed during the summer, high performing participants can continue their internship and remain in the program for up to nine months. In this fiscal year, Fostering Success has seen a 133% increase in participation, which speaks to the importance of supporting young adults as they gain valuable experience and develop the proficiency necessary to find success in the workforce.
The mission and positive outcomes of the Fostering Success program have drawn the attention of many large employers across the country, including Walgreens. In 2022, the company committed to provide employment opportunities and training to Fostering Success participants at Walgreens locations across the state.
Earn and Learn, launched in 2020 as a subset of the Fostering Success Program, provides the opportunity for current and former foster youth to boost their earning potential through the completion of short-term vocational training, or by completing their GED. Earn and Learn participants receive support in selecting a vocational program for a high-demand job that matches their skill set and interests. Alternatively, youth without a high school diploma are still able to participate in Earn and Learn through the Skills U program at Kentucky Community and Technical College Systems, which allows students to earn a vocational certificate while working on their GED.
Earn and Learn is a key component of Fostering Success as it increases the number of current and former foster youth obtaining post-secondary credentials across the state. Because education and employment are integral to reducing the likelihood of homelessness and poverty among former foster youth, earning these credentials will increase young adults’ capacity to earn a living wage and live independently.
“Some of these individuals have never had jobs or never thought they could pursue a higher education,” says Linda Smith, Program Coordinator for Fostering Success and Earn and Learn. “We try to match them with their interests and offer options that will hopefully lead to long term employment. Through these programs, we hope to provide meaningful experiences and teachable moments.”