Expanding Career Connections for Youth in Foster Care

Posted December 12, 2022, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

A group of racially diverse young people sit at tables, talking

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: 

  • course­work;
  • men­tor­ing;
  • 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.

Shar­ing Strategies

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.

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