Youth around the area who are aging out of the state foster care program have been taking advantage of a summer employment initiative.
Fostering Success is in its second year and is intended to give older youth in foster care the opportunity to access employment, job training and leadership skills through a collaborative program that places them in entry-level positions with state government agencies.
This year, program partner True-UP, a Louisville-based foster youth support organization that collaborated with the inaugural Fostering Success program in 2016, expanded its financial literacy and employment retention training to Elizabethtown and Lexington. Six youth from the region, who are a part of the Fostering Success initiative, were participants in True-UP’s job preparedness class, which has been taking place at the Department of Community Based Services on North Mulberry Street. Their last class is Tuesday.
The summer youth employment program serves Kentucky’s foster youth between the ages of 17 and 23. Pam Adams, independent living coordinator, said program participants had to have a high school diploma or equivalent to be selected for the 10-week employment.
Similar to a summer intern, participants worked 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
“I think it’s been very beneficial,” Adams said. “They are actually learning something to take with them when they go to additional employment.”
Adams said the hope is participants continue to build on the skills they learn.
Although Fostering Success is 10 weeks, the job preparedness class meets once a week for eight weeks.
Cameron Galloway of Hardin County is in the program. He said Fostering Success provides a good source of income for participants.
“As foster children, we don’t have family to back us up in certain things we want to do,” he said, noting he has been saving money from the internship to buy a car. “I don’t have family to provide extra support.”
Galloway also said the program provides participants with a stronger resume when they enter the job market. He said a foster child typically is not successful and doesn’t achieve their potential. The program shows they are not “just stereotypical children.”
Autumn Stevens, a participant from Woodford County, said the employment and class has been a valuable opportunity. Stevens said it gave participants an have they will never be able to experience again, where they can work around people who can mentor them and lead them in the right direction.
“We’re not the myth that everyone puts us out to be,” Stevens said.
More often than not, children who age out of the foster care system at 18 lack the social and financial management skills they need to find jobs and be productive, self-reliant adults, said Laura Elmore, regional director for Benchmark Family Services in Elizabethtown.
Elmore said children often are behind on cognitive skills because of neglect or abuse they’ve experienced.
“Many of our children have low self-esteem and are uncomfortable in social situations,” Elmore said. “They are unable to have useful financial management skills, partly due to age appropriate functioning, but also due to never being allowed the opportunity to manage money.”
At 18, children have the choice to leave the state’s care or recommit to the state. Elmore said if they choose to recommit, they have the option to stay in a foster home or live in a dorm or apartment. If they recommit to the independent living program, they still have rules to follow, which would include maintaining enrollment in school or employment. They are able to stay in the independent living program until they turn 21.
Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services’ most recent diligent recruitment report from July 2 said 431 children from Hardin County are placed in out-of-home care.
According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, national statistics show in 2014, an estimated 238,230 people exited foster care, including about 21,000 who emancipated or aged out of the system. Of those who exited foster care, about 11,000 of them spent five years or more in care.
The data also show one in five young people in foster care will become homeless after the age of 18 and only 58 percent will graduate high school by the age of 19.
The six participants in Fostering Success this year are striving toward goals of obtaining a job, going to college or more. They also give input into the foster care system.
“I am thankful we can have a kind of a professional experience,” said Kat Turner, a program participant from Hardin County, adding the atmosphere is not judgmental. “I kind of feel happy because we actually get to give back and put input into foster care and make it better.”
Overall, Elmore said the transition to adulthood for foster children is “absolutely more difficult than the average child.”
“Commonly, they don’t have a strong support system that can help them through the transition,” she said. “The childhood experiences they have had will last with them forever. This can lead to lack of trust of any adult in their lives. They often feel that the only person they have for support is themselves.”
Elmore said many foster children fall behind in school because of instability in their biological home, truancy issues or possibly being moved from school to school while in foster care, Elmore said.
“We have children that leave care at 18 without a high school diploma and only a ninth-grade education,” she said. “When children aren’t completing the basic requirements for a high school diploma, it’s common that they haven’t received any education on basic life skills, which would include how to write a resume, questions that will be asked in an interview, etc.”
Elmore said there aren’t a lot of programs in general for children in foster care, so Fostering Success helps.
“I don’t know of any other programs like Fostering Success, so the idea of this program being local is exciting,” she said."