When looking at the numerous challenges that face youth aging out of foster care, workforce outcomes are a key issue, but one in which we have a limited understanding. We know that 20% of youth in foster care are aging out and only 50% of those youth will have steady employment by 24. With estimates of 650 youth aging out of care in Virginia each year (this number only continues to rise), this would mean roughly 325 youth per year being unemployed or underemployed. Many barriers contribute to the employment struggles of these youth including homelessness and mental health concerns which can create exponential challenges to obtaining or maintaining employment.
To best identify possible solutions that will help support our youth, a study has been requested from the Commission on Youth. The request is for the Commission to dive deep into what barriers exist in preventing youth aging out of care from obtaining and maintaining steady employment. After understanding these barriers, the study would hopefully provide recommendations for policy changes or programs that would offer prevention for youth still in foster care and intervention for those who have already aged out.
Currently, Children’s Home Society has taken the lead on working with the Commission on Youth to propose this study along with contacting legislators from both the House and the Senate for their support. After the study is approved, the Commission on Youth will identify a variety of stakeholders to be involved. This will likely include the Department of Social Services, Voices for Virginia’s Children, and other agencies who work in foster care, adoption, and independent living.
The next Commission on Youth meeting has not yet been set, so the date for when they would vote on whether to take on this study is likely to occur after session is over. Based on prior study timelines, if approved, the study would likely be completed by November 2021. This would then allow advocates and legislators to take the recommendations under consideration for proposing policy changes in the 2022 General Assembly session.
From this study, we expect the Commission would begin by looking at what other states are doing to get an initial idea of current methods of prevention and intervention. Afterwards, there would be a process for hearing from stakeholders and the youth themselves. Part of the process may also include some engagement with the workforce to gain the employers’ perspectives as well. There is a significant opportunity for this study to highlight the need for employers to better understand what youth aging out of foster care require in terms of support and the value that they bring to the workforce. Employers need significant education to understand the barriers and provide better support to their employees.
Prior to proposing this study, Children’s Home Society had created a panel with several stakeholders, including youth, to identify policy recommendations. The recommendation for the study came out of this panel and all recommendations were approved and endorsed by the youth in their program. As an organization, they are currently talking to their youth about what was supportive and what helped provide successful employment, as well as, what supports would have been needed to better support employment. Additionally, we anticipate the youth voice being involved in the study and from an equity perspective, it is critical that their voices are incorporated. The experiences of youth aging out of foster care are unique and their perspective on solutions, that will or will not work, is priceless. We want to be sure that if we implement a recommendation the youth will buy into it. Otherwise, the impact we seek is unlikely to be realized.
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