Preparing Youth in Foster Care for Workforce Development

Young adult workforce development

“What if I don’t want to go to college?”

“Can’t I just start working?”

“How do I have time to think about college when I need to figure out where to live?”

For a lot of high school students experiencing foster care, these are the big questions when people bring up the future and workforce development. And while the Graduation Success program is a major cornerstone of our work, Treehouse’s goal is not to persuade youth down the college track. 

The truth is that our Education Specialists and Launch Success Coaches do not set goals for the young people they serve. The participants are the ones to determine their own goals, and the Treehouse staff are simply there to help navigate the next steps, whether that’s pursuing a career certification or job training course. 

What Does Treehouse Do? 

In an ideal world, all young people would have a reliable, supportive network of adults and mentors to guide them through things like workforce development, deciding what to wear for an interview and persevering through work dilemmas. The reality, however, is that there is a population of students and young adults who have been shuffled through countless homes and social work offices only to find themselves by themselves once they turn a certain age. 

This is where Treehouse strives to fill the gap, with steady relationships for youth to turn to when they need guidance. Treehouse’s wraparound programs and services are designed to support young people as they embark on the journey to create the life of their dreams. Just-in-Time Funding (JITF) provides financial support for things like training courses, work equipment and more; participants can shop at the Treehouse Store for clothing, accessories and books at no cost to them; and programs like Graduation Success for students in grades 8–12 and Launch Success for young adults aged 18–22 offer one-on-one coaching. 

Possibilities at Work 

For the Graduation Success program’s Education Specialists, the conversation about planning for the future begins in high school. This can look like asking: What are you interested in? Where do you see yourself in five years? What do you want in life? These broad, open-ended questions allow ideas to simmer and open the door to nonjudgemental conversations about the future. 

Based on the student’s ideas and goals, Education Specialists have a few tools to help them explore opportunities. Job shadowing, summer programs and internships provide real information about training requirements, lifestyle insight and other pathways in a particular field. 

Creating space to explore workforce development not only makes the future less of a scary question mark, but also demonstrates self-advocacy and problem-solving methods for the youth to use later in life. For young people who have dealt with upheaval, it can be difficult to leave a survival mindset behind so they can lean into dreaming and planning. “Offering resources, whether they take it or not, is important because it exposes them to opportunities. It’s not about getting them excited about one specific thing,” says Education Specialist Leslie Berger, “it’s about removing the barriers to opportunities by showing them various options they can take.” 

Making Career Moves 

After high school, our Graduation Success participants have the option to transition to working with Launch Success Coaches. The coaches build on the groundwork laid during the youth’s time with their Education Specialist. When asked where this process starts for young adults aging out of foster care, Launch Success Coach René Jones says, “It depends. You start where they’re at.” 

From job searches to resume writing and enrolling in training courses, Launch Success Coaches have been known to do it all. For René, the guiding questions she asks about workforce development are: What skills are most useful? What would it take to land the job? Is there a program or schooling you need? Where are the skills going to take you?  

Having a trusted person to brainstorm and plan with imparts so much on young adults, from learning how to anticipate next steps, pose the big questions and confidently decide. “A coach may think a specific opportunity would be great for a participant, but perhaps the participant sees only the cons or isn’t about it for whatever reason,” shares Launch Success Manager Nhoell Perez. “The coach might share the website info with the participant and ask the young person to draw out pros and cons — the participant has that skill-building tool and then can be able to determine with more certainty their opinion or decision.” 

Treehouse Launch Success Coaches connect young adults to various workforce development resources, such as

  • Passport to Apprenticeship Opportunities, which is a part of the Passport to Careers initiative, assists people enrolled in pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs with tuition, fees and occupational costs like work clothes and tools. 
  • ANEW is a Puget Sound-based organization dedicated to making the construction industry accessible through partnerships with over 17 regional programs and employers.  
  • iFoster is a national nonprofit that specializes in providing tools, materials, and resources to ensure foster youth ages 16–26 have what they need to become successful, independent adults. Their services range from housing help to internships and assistance obtaining cell phones and laptops. 

How to Get Involved 

If you or someone you know has lived experience in the foster care system and are under the age of 22, you can browse our services here for more information on our programs and eligibility requirements. 

You can support young people experiencing foster care in a few ways, such as hosting a drive, volunteering, making a purchase from our wishlist or making a financial contribution. Visit the Take Action page for more information! 

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