Expanding Career Connections for Youth in Foster Care
The Works Wonders® curriculum aims to connect young people in foster care with careers that interest them.
What Is Works Wonders?
In the Works Wonders model, staff members customize learning plans and recruit local companies to employ older youth with foster care experience. Typical programming includes:
- job shadowing;
- paid internships; and
- career guidance.
Developed a decade ago by Rhode Island’s Foster Forward — one of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative® sites — Works Wonders intentionally elevates youth perspectives, interests and relationships. “Promoting connections to work and school for young people who have experienced foster care requires that we be curious about the conditions necessary for them to experience well-being and relationships,” explains Catherine Lester, associate director of the Casey Foundation’s Family Well-Being Strategy Group.
Adapting the Model
Two fellow Jim Casey Initiative partners — Monroe Harding in Tennessee and Foster Success in Indiana — have begun adapting and expanding Works Wonders to better serve their local youth.
Monroe Harding is a Nashville-based nonprofit that works with the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services. When young people at Monroe Harding inquired about jobs in animal care, staff tailored the Works Wonders model to match two youths with internships at the Pet Community Center, a nonprofit veterinary clinic in Nashville. With help from mentors assigned by Monroe Harding staff, both young people advanced to earn veterinary assistant certificates and now work at the clinic, according to Pamela Madison, Monroe Harding’s chief executive officer.
Foster Success recently launched a startup business training program inspired by the popular TV show “Shark Tank.” This Works Wonders adaptation — created at the behest of local youth — explores how innovators compete to attract investors for their products.
The aspiring entrepreneurs gained experience in several aspects of business development, including:
- inventing a product;
- writing a business plan; and
- pitching an idea to investors.
Works Wonders defines success in a number of ways and this definition extends beyond landing a job or earning a paycheck, says Lisa Guillette, executive director of Foster Forward. Success can also mean gaining work experience and skills, including learning how to communicate, collaborate, resolve conflicts and self-advocate.
The partners are working together — with a grant from the Casey Foundation — to share lessons and strategies as they adapt Works Wonders in their communities. The goal is to pave the way for further expansion, especially to sites serving older youth who live on their own or who will be exiting foster care soon.