Jobs Program Takes Teens and Young Adults From Systems to Careers

Posted August 2, 2019
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Young Adult Work Opportunities for Rewarding Careers (YA WORC) is helping to improve their readiness for the world of work

Teens and young adults in fos­ter care, involved in the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem or fac­ing men­tal health issues often lack the career-readi­ness skills and knowl­edge to gain eco­nom­ic self-suf­fi­cien­cy. But Young Adult Work Oppor­tu­ni­ties for Reward­ing Careers (YA WORC), devel­oped by the Work­place Cen­ter at the Colum­bia School of Social Work, is help­ing to improve their readi­ness for the world of work.

A pro­gram tai­lored for these teens and young adults, YA WORC uses an indi­vid­u­al­ized career explo­ration and plan­ning process and a struc­tured cur­ricu­lum to build on young people’s strengths and devel­op a path to sus­tain­able careers. The results have been impressive:

  • In New York City, 87% of par­tic­i­pants across six fos­ter care agen­cies report­ed active­ly using the program’s skills and knowl­edge; 43% report­ed that they were working.
  • In Los Ange­les, 40 pro­grams across 17 agen­cies more than dou­bled their par­tic­i­pant employ­ment rates from 22% to 54%, as a con­se­quence of the program’s career-readi­ness curriculum.
  • In Rhode Island, the Work­place Cen­ter was a part­ner in Works Won­ders, a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar work­force part­ner­ship that received a 2018 Inno­va­tions in Amer­i­can Gov­ern­ment Award from the Ash Cen­ter at Har­vard Kennedy School for its suc­cess in con­nect­ing young peo­ple in fos­ter care to the world of work.

The Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion is pro­vid­ing funds to inte­grate YA WORC into New York City’s juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem, from deten­tion through reen­try into com­mu­ni­ty life, and to expand the pro­gram to oth­er juris­dic­tions. The Foun­da­tion is also con­tribut­ing to broad­en­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion in YA WORC, includ­ing the pro­vi­sion of career-readi­ness train­ing for young peo­ple in high school equiv­a­len­cy pro­grams. Even­tu­al­ly, these ini­tia­tives can ben­e­fit tens of thou­sands of young adults, along with their fam­i­lies and sub­se­quent generations.

Not only is YA WORC sup­port­ing child wel­fare par­tic­i­pants, it is also cre­at­ing diver­sion pro­grams to keep youth out of those sys­tems in the first place,” says Ayo Atter­ber­ry, senior asso­ciate in Casey’s Evi­dence-Based Prac­tice Group and man­ag­er of the YA WORC grant.

The roots of an inspir­ing idea

Research shows that young peo­ple under the care of social ser­vices are often large­ly unpre­pared for the world of work. More­over, employ­ment resources tend to focus on job place­ment over career devel­op­ment, result­ing in stag­na­tion in low-pay­ing jobs with lim­it­ed advance­ment potential.

A decade ago, Lau­ren Gates, senior research sci­en­tist and direc­tor of the Work­place Cen­ter, decid­ed to change this.

Focus­ing on 14- to 21-year-olds, Gates launched the career-readi­ness cur­ricu­lum in Los Ange­les, home to the largest child wel­fare pop­u­la­tion in the coun­try. Fund­ing from Casey enabled Gates to bring the pro­gram to New York City’s juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem and use pub­lic fund­ing to expand the pro­gram to young peo­ple in fos­ter care in New York City, through­out New York state and in Rhode Island. The frame­work is con­sis­tent across locales: Approach tar­get­ed com­mu­ni­ty-based fos­ter care agen­cies, juve­nile jus­tice providers and child wel­fare agen­cies, and work with them to both imple­ment YA WORC and secure fund­ing that can sus­tain the program.

Key com­po­nents

YA WORC takes par­tic­i­pants through career prepa­ra­tion and sus­tain­abil­i­ty in two phas­es. In phase one, YA WORC gen­er­ates inspi­ra­tion, explores career inter­ests and plans career paths. In phase two, par­tic­i­pants learn essen­tial social skills and gain the knowl­edge need­ed to suc­ceed in the world of work. They also con­nect with an employ­ment expe­ri­ence that allows them to put this learn­ing into prac­tice. Each phase pro­vides cru­cial resources for encour­age­ment, as well as edu­ca­tion and employ­ment support.

The Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion has been essen­tial for help­ing us devel­op the key com­po­nents of YA WORC, ensur­ing it responds to the unique needs of young peo­ple with juve­nile jus­tice involve­ment as they seek to con­nect with employ­ment,” says Gates.

YA WORC has incor­po­rat­ed oth­er inno­v­a­tive approach­es, too. Most recent­ly, the Work­place Cen­ter col­lab­o­rat­ed with Grow with Google to inte­grate Google’s online Applied Dig­i­tal Skills lessons into its career-readi­ness curriculum.

Learn about Casey’s Gen­er­a­tion Work ini­tia­tive to build rela­tion­ships between employ­ers and youth of color

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