Update from Addis Ababa: Youth aging out of orphanage care


August 13, 2013
Addis Ababa

This past Saturday, Mikiyas and I wrapped up the last set of interviews here in Addis Ababa.  In total, we talked to 58 individuals from 9 different organizations.  Their stories reflect a vast range of experiences, with some being very successful in their independent life and some still struggling to find work and shelter 8 years after leaving care.  For some interviews, we were able to go in depth and hear very personal stories of the transition process. All of these interviews have given us an anecdotal slice of the breadth and depth of challenges youth face once they leave care.

Our last interview was at the headquarters of Service In Mission (SIM). The clinic director, Mary Vanderwal, has been doing volunteer work with young men who aged out of a large orphanage in Addis.  Because of her established relationship with the boys, we expected a good turnout of around 8 to 10 participants.  The line taxi pulled up with 18 men, aged 22-29, ready to talk about their experiences.  Thank goodness we had enough food!  Because we had so many participants, Mikiyas and I used the large-group interview model we developed for IOFA’s summer research.  A young Ethiopian theology student, Tseyone, was also present and translated for me as Mikiyas facilitated the discussion.

“I found my aunt and uncle, but they wouldn’t let me stay in their house or give me money for my education.”

Mikiyas first asked about the general experience of these young men as they aged out of care.  They said that the orphanage gave them a lump sum of money and then basically turned them loose.  The boys had no idea how to budget or manage finances, and this money was gone within a month, without the boys securing a job our housing.  Many of them lived with friends or in khat houses*, which now rent rooms. The boys may have completed their public education, but received no vocational training or support to attend a university or college.

Some of the participants discussing the challenges they faced during transition

Some of the participants discussing the challenges they faced during transition

Mikiyas then broke the boys into 3 small groups and asked them to discuss three different topics: the primary challenges they faced once they left the orphanage, how they managed to provide for themselves, and the kind of support available to them once they left.  The young men were instructed to write down their experiences and elect a representative to report back to the larger group.  This is what we heard:

Primary Challenges:
“Because they know we are from the orphanage, the society doesn’t trust us.  They think that we are all criminals.”  “Landlords won’t rent to us, businesses won’t employ us.”  “We pretend that we have families so that we can get work, but someone always finds out.  Once they know we are from the orphanage, they will find a reason to fire us.”  “We can’t even get an ID card*.  Without an ID card, how are we supposed to get a job?”

“Because they know we are from the orphanage, the society doesn’t trust us.  They think that we are all criminals.”

“We can get some work in day labor.”  “We stay with friends, mostly other boys from the orphanage.”  “We don’t have a choice where we stay.  I have to be careful because I can’t always trust the people I stay with.  I have had many things stolen.”  “We don’t know how to cook, and we don’t always have a kitchen.  Mostly, I eat food I buy on the street.”

Family and Social Support:
“Our families don’t help us.”  “I found my aunt and uncle, but they wouldn’t let me stay in their house or give me money for my education.”  “Our brothers are in the orphanage, or are outside with us. They are our only family.”  “We try to support each other, but none of us has much to give the others.”  “Our family didn’t welcome us.  Society didn’t welcome us.  Only addiction welcomed us.”

“We try to support each other, but none of us has much to give the others.”

After these presentations, Mikiyas brought out a poster-board with a drawing of a soccer goal.  The goal, he explained, stood for success in their independent life.  We then passed out small paper soccer balls and blue sticky notes.  The boys were instructed to write a goal that they had for their lives on the sticky notes, attach the note to a soccer ball and place the ball either on the poster (if the goal had been achieved) or outside the poster (if their attempts had failed so far).  After the boys “scored” their goals, we handed out red sticky notes and green sticky notes.  The red sticky notes were for the balls outside the poster—those goals that had not been achieved.  The green sticky notes were for the goals that had been realized.  On the red sticky notes, the boys were instructed to write the obstacles that kept them from achieving each of their goals.  On the green sticky notes, they were asked to write down the support that made their achievements possible.  They then were told to pair the red and green sticky notes to the appropriate soccer balls.

Writing goals and placing them on the poster (successful) or outside (unsuccessful)

Writing goals and placing them on the poster (successful) or outside (unsuccessful)

Many of the balls outside of the poster had to do with finding stable work, having a place to stay, and having a family one day.  The challenges that were most often named stemmed from systemic issues:  there weren’t enough jobs available, the boys don’t have proper vocational training, etc.  Many of the balls on the poster (achievements) were social in nature—many had found friends outside the orphanage, and some had even found romantic partners.  These successes were attributed to the boys’ own personalities, patience, and hard work.

After the interview session ended, the boys were invited to lunch in the common area.  We went through 25 injera, 2 pots of lamb stew, and 2 big bowls of vegetable wot.  All of the participants told us that they found the interview process extremely helpful.  It was good, they said, to have somewhere safe to go and discuss their lives and the challenges they face.  Usually, they only come together in bars and khat houses.  They also appreciated that people were actually interested in their experience and that work was being done to help other children.  “Our lives are difficult, they will always be difficult,” one young man said.  “But it is important that our younger brothers [still in the orphanage] don’t have the same experience.”

Sarah Lyn Jones
Transitions Initiative Intern

*Khat houses are places in Addis where young men can smoke shisha & marijuana, drink, and chew khat.  These establishments often offer a place to sleep and some food for a low price because they make money on the addictive substances they sell.
**In order to get an ID card in Ethiopia, you have to have a permanent residence and someone to vouch for you, to provide a “guarantee.”  The person who provides the guarantee must also have an ID card and be willing to have some sort of legal connection to you.  Because these young men don’t have either, they cannot get an ID card.  Without an ID card, they cannot enroll in educational/vocational programs or apply for the majority of jobs.

Support Sarah’s work in Addis Ababa at http://www.gofundme.com/Transitions-Initiative


Foster care youth vulnerable to human trafficking


Operation Cross Country VII, the FBI-led minor sex trafficking sting late last month, shocked Americans as it exposed the reality of human trafficking in the United States. Even more frightening has been the realization that many of the exploited youth identified in the sting were recruited directly out of the foster care system. [1]

What about the situation of youth “in the system” creates such vulnerability?


There are numerous factors.

Each year, more than 26,000 American youth age out of care. [2] Understandably, many identify their main challenge as not having a familial support system to back them when they have a need. Whereas youth growing up in consistent family settings have adults present to provide advice, support, and resources, youth in foster care are often accustomed to changing living situations and will likely not maintain a lifelong connection with any of their temporary guardians.

Foster care youth also may not have been given consistent, unconditional acceptance and support. They are given new rules and expectations in each household they enter and in each agency from which they receive support. Accustomed to a checklist mentality of “performance”, one youth puts it, “you grow up sort of having to audition – for everything.” [3]

“You grow up sort of having to audition – for everything.”

Traffickers recognize that youth with this background are accustomed to their needs being met on a conditional basis, and that they have a hunger for unconditional acceptance. Traffickers promise a bed to sleep in each night, all physical needs to be met, and intense emotional connection. Their promises of love coupled with demands for trafficked youth to perform sex acts or provide free labor create an intricate web of emotional manipulation while meeting the need for love and support.

Traffickers also exploit the often-rocky backgrounds of foster care youth. Most of the youth who enter the foster care system have put in the State’s care because of a situation of abuse or neglect at home. The psychological and emotional effects of these experiences make these youth particularly susceptible to the abuses of traffickers. The normalization of sexual violence and the unmet need for nurturance and support increase the chances that a potential trafficking victim can be psychologically coerced into compliance with a trafficker.

Youth who are aging out of foster care also may be more vulnerable to traffickers because of financial need. They must find a way to support themselves building from the ground up. Nearly half do not finish high school, and homelessness is often a problem upon aging out. [3] Without a financial or housing safety net in place, they often operate in short-term mode, making ends meet day to day with little flexibility to invest in the future. As one youth who ended up homeless put it, “Life hits you hard after you get out. You feel like the whole world is against you.” [4] Promises of love, emotional support, financial support, and housing are hard to pass up for youth who may not be offered these basic needs elsewhere.

“Life hits you hard after you get out. You feel like the whole world is against you.”

Moreover, when youth age out of State care, they often drop off the radar completely. The State is no longer responsible for them and there may not be the long-term support of family or friends looking out for them. Given how often youth in foster care are moved around, no one may show alarm the moment an aged-out youth goes missing. No one is held accountable for them and traffickers take advantage of this vulnerability.

These issues are complex and are just the tip of the iceberg. Unfortunately, it is not only in the United States that youth in alternative care face extreme vulnerability to human trafficking and other dangerous situations and exploitation.

The Transitions Initiative in Ethiopia marks IOFA’s commitment to supporting youth aging out of alternative care and building awareness of their situations upon leaving care. Keep an eye out for IOFA intern Sarah’s reports on her research this summer with these youth, learning what they have to say about their experiences aging out of care.

Alexa Schnieders
Program Development Intern

[1] http://www.kspr.com/news/kspr-alarming-number-of-children-lured-into-sex-trafficking-come-right-out-of-the-foster-system-20130801,0,2909596.story
[2] http://www.childrensrights.org/issues-resources/foster-care/facts-about-foster-care/
[3] http://wesa.fm/post/facing-new-life-after-aging-out-foster-care-system
[4] http://www.the-review.com/editors%20pick/2013/08/05/ohio-program-readies-foster-children-to-live-alone
Image: http://www.lollydaskal.com/leadership/stay-vulnerable-even-when-it-hurts/

Update from Addis Ababa: Experiences of youth aging out of institutionalized care

August 2, 2013

It’s hard to believe that I’ve spent over a month in Addis, and that I’ll be leaving in just three short weeks.  I am now able to get around the city confidently and comfortably, I have favorite restaurants and cafés, and I’ve made many friends that I’ll be sad to leave.  Moreover, my work has finally changed from meetings with organizational staff to interviewing young people who grew up in care:  hearing their stories and experiences of transition.  This is the work that I am most interested in, and it will be the basis for IOFA’s decisions moving forward on the Transitions Initiative in Ethiopia.  We want to know what the personal experience of transitioning from care institutions to independence.


Mikiyas and three research participants from Kidane Mehret

So far, Mikiyas Feyissa (IOFA’s Ethiopian representative and translator) and I have conducted four interview sessions, each with adults from different organizations.  We heard from 5 youth from CIAI who spent much of their time on the streets until CIAI’s shelter took them in.  We met with 10 individuals who grew up in L’Esperance:  an Adventist orphanage on the outskirts of Addis.  We talked to 5 adults who grew up in Abebech Gobena (Addis Ababa’s most famous orphanage) and who are now employed by that institution.  We also met 4 girls from Kidane Mehret orphanage, who have just started transitioning to independent life.  Additionally, I have been able to have great, informal conversations with two young men who grew up in care and who are now living independently.

Each individual and group has a unique story, but there are common themes that we hear over and over again.  One challenge that every youth seems to face when they leave care is the extreme culture shock of joining the outside community.  Most orphaned children grow up isolated in institutions with very little community interaction.  Basic social skills that most children pick up through observing adults are completely foreign to orphaned youth.  Tamerat, who now works as a psychologist in a Catholic orphanage, told me that he didn’t know how to buy food or clothes because everything had always been provided in the orphanage.  

“[Orphaned youth] have no budgeting skills and don’t know how to save money.  They also don’t have any role models for working and responsibility.  Other children see their parents go to work every day, [orphaned youth] don’t have that experience.  They don’t know how to manage their time to make sure everything is done.”

Every group has commented on how difficult it is to converse and interact with other people outside of the institution.  The youth feel that the community will ostracize them, which leads them to be very reserved; most Ethiopians generally do not trust reserved people, so they treat the youth as though they were of bad character.  This confirms the youth’s fears and leads to further psychological distress.  The youth also have no sense of “good” and “bad” behavior in other people; they are often easily trusting of strangers.  Because their only interactions with adults have been in the orphanage, the youth often do not possess the healthy dose of suspicion that most of us employ when meeting new people, looking for a job, and searching for housing.

“Children who grew up in this orphanage have similar thinking and conduct. We respect people and we do not pretend like people do in the society. If we trust others; we give ourselves.  On the other hand members of the society do not give themselves, they rather are selfish.”


Focus group participants at L’Esperance orphanage answering yes/no questions by making either an “n” or a “y” shape with their bodies

We are also hearing that although institutions often assist the youth in pursuing some sort of education or vocational training, the support stops as soon as they graduate.  In Ethiopia, the biggest challenge for young people is finding employment.  While young people with family support often have the option of staying with their parents while looking for a good job, orphaned youth must enter the job market immediately so that they can support themselves.  Families also function as a job search and referral system in a place where social connections are the key to getting a good job.  This lack of material and social support leads orphaned youth to take jobs that they are over-qualified for, jobs with low wages and little opportunity of advancement.

“We suffer long periods of time without any finances…Students who graduated with fewer qualifications and lower grades secure better employment.  We graduate with honors and do not get a job at all.  You can only explain this by people having contacts: relatives, families, etc., and we do not have that.”

For many of the participants in these interviews, telling their stories can be cathartic.  The four girls that Mikiyas and I interviewed at Kidane Mehret orphanage were disappointed that we would not be meeting again.  This was the first time anyone had asked them about their experience or showed an interest in how the transition was affecting them emotionally.  The group from L’Esperance meets weekly for fellowship.  They said that they discuss the challenges they face and lean on each other for support. 

I am glad that IOFA’s interview process gives some of these youth the opportunity to process and reflect on their experience, as well as assurance that people do care about them and want to make the experience better for youth aging out of care.

Sarah Lyn Jones,
Transitions Initiative Intern

Greetings from Addis Ababa

July 12, 2013

It has now been two weeks since I arrived in Addis, and already I have learned much about the situation of orphans and vulnerable children in Ethiopia, as well as the obstacles they face in transitioning out of care and reintegrating into the outside community.  After many long conversations and meetings with various NGOs and care institutions here, this is the general picture of the future of those children growing up in care institutions:



First, most institutions in Addis are orphanages whose main goal is international adoption for their children.  As they grow older, their chances of adoption grow slim.  Many of the orphanages that focus on adoption do not have plans for children who have grown too old for adoption, and the children keep hoping and dreaming that they will leave Ethiopia one day.  Some care institutions move children to group homes after a certain age, or try to reintegrate them with their extended families.

Some care institutions are not interested in adoption.  These institutions can be private and well-funded (like Selam Children’s Villages) or public institutions (like Kolfe and Kechene orphan homes).  The private institutions usually have an organized plan for transition and reintegration, including gradual transitions to independent living, scholarships for university, vocational training, etc.  The public institutions are overpopulated and understaffed, and often do not have the funding or the manpower to thoroughly address the issues that these children will face outside of the only home they have ever known.

The challenges that these children will face when they age out of care are many.  The biggest challenge seems to be the culture shock that they encounter as soon as they leave the institution.  Many of these children have been isolated in these care institutions for their entire lives.  They often do not have the social skills necessary for community life in Ethiopia, which is a different culture than the in which they grew up; this seems to be especially true for young people from large institutions that have a more dormitory living arrangements.  Some institutions work with a village model, raising the children in homes of 8-10 that effectively function as family units.  Still, the children in these village-based organizations have very little contact with the surrounding communities and have developed a certain set of social and cultural skills that allowed them to function within the institution but not outside.  Without social and cultural education, these young people often find it challenging to integrate themselves into the city of Addis Ababa.

A complementary challenge to transition comes from Ethiopian community-based culture itself.  Most children in Addis grow up in a community in which their family is established.  They often do not move far from that community, even when they reach adulthood. Unlike in the United States, people in Addis do not often move to new neighborhoods and communities. Young people leaving care must find homes in established communities and they are often viewed as invaders.  Because no one knows who they are or much about their background, the community often does not trust or engage with these young people.  Being an orphan or an unsupported youth in Ethiopia also carries its own stigma—they are often seen as delinquents, which creates another barrier to community integration.  In a culture and society so focused on communal interaction, this kind of social isolation can be psychologically and emotionally devastating.

Retrak Vocational Training Program

Retrak Vocational Training Program

The social and cultural challenges that these young people face are difficult enough, but often added to this burden is lack of support in securing basic needs.  Some youth attend university, some get vocational training.  The quality of education is variable, depending on not only an individual’s academic performance but also on how much financial support they get from their institution.  Because Addis attracts many people from all regions of Ethiopia and because the youth are the fastest growing population in Ethiopia, there is a shortage of good jobs.  Many young people cannot get a job for at least a year after graduating from college.  If and when young people do find work, they often do not make enough to support themselves.  It is common for young people to live with their parents after they have graduated from university or vocational school until they get married—a good 2-6 years.  Without the support of a family system to fall back on, many orphaned and unsupported youth are forced to take job opportunities that others pass up—jobs that are low-paying.  Some institutions do support their former residents by giving them housing and food allowance, but these are in the minority.

Fortunately, the Ethiopian government is finally realizing that there is a service gap in reintegration and transition support.  Along with moving away from the traditional dormitory/orphanage model of care for unsupported or orphaned children, the government is trying to incorporate models of care that mimic community and village life.  UNICEF Ethiopia is also collaborating with Kolfe and Kechene orphanages in Addis on reintegration education and support programs, though the funding and results of their efforts are still unclear.

All of this information has come from administrative staff of various NGOs and care institutions here in Addis Ababa.  I am very interested to hear from those individuals who have transitioned into the city of Addis about their own experiences, to hear their own individual stories.

If you are interested in learning about the organizations with which IOFA will be working with this summer, here is a list.  Each is doing great work and deserves to be known.

Women In Self Employment (WISE)

Selam Children’s Village

AHOPE Ethiopia

Children’s Heaven

The Organization for Rehabilitation and Development in Amhara (ORDA)

The Italian Center for Children’s Aid (CIAI)


Kingdom Vision International

Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture in Ethiopia (RCVTE)

Sarah Lyn Jones
Transitions Initiative Intern

Photo 1: Retrak Vocational Training Program

Photo 2: AHOPE Kids

Recommendations: Cook County DCFS youth recount their experiences with a job training program

Last week’s blog post reported the reflections of DCFS foster youth participants in a job training program, as noted through Chapin Hall focus groups. The Cook County-based program seeks to provide four weeks of training before two months of subsidized work placements, yet the participants’ feedback has been disappointing. How can programs like the Cook County one be improved?


Increased organization and individualized care

One of the most widespread complaints among the DCFS ward participants was the perceived disorganization of the program. One suggestion that Chapin Hall makes is to train DCFS wards separately from other populations for more specialized and individualized attention and training.

The needs of the DCFS ward participants are often starkly different from some of the populations with whom they have been trained (ex-convict adults, for example). The training program is often the first preparation for professionalism that the young participants have ever received. Using age-specific material and encouraging an environment of equality of status and priority could improve the effectiveness of the program for DCFS ward participants.

The smaller training class size would also encourage engagement in the program and give participants the opportunity to ask their questions and receive more individualized support.

Interactive Skill-building activities

Another complaint of the program participants was the worksheet-style training. The DCFS youth preferred a more hands-on approach, citing an interactive “Pretend Town” activity as the most useful part of the training as a whole. Other concrete examples that the participants mentioned included mock interviews, CPR training, and opportunities “where you practice”. Hands-on learning experiences help participants feel that their time is being valued and prepare them for real-world experience.

A more interactive approach also would better equip the young participants to handle unforeseen challenges in the workplace. Preparation for conflict management, emergency response, and other opportunities to think on their feet would help create appropriate response patterns to these situations.

Curriculum for keeping the job, not just landing it

DCFS ward participants expressed frustration over the program’s curriculum, which sought to equip them to write resumes, speak in interviews, and dress for success. Once participants had landed the job, however, participants felt that the skills required of them for continued success, both job-specific and general professionalism, were lacking.

A curriculum including more extensive job-specific training, while necessitating more specialization, could improve the value participants place on the training, their confidence upon entrée into the job, and their performance in their position. Approaching the program with a focus on long-term results (success in job placement) rather than the short-term goal (the initial placement) could increase the participants’ chances of success and satisfaction upon employment, ultimately fulfilling the vision of the program 

Put job placement options in a realistic, positive perspective

Many participants expressed disappointment in the discord between their career interests and their job placements. Clear communication of the existing job placement options and the viability of placement in their fields of interests could improve the participants’ emotional reactions to receiving their placement.

I would also suggest creating a “game plan” of how youth can work their way into their field of interest, even if their initial placement is not going to reflect their preferences. For example, focusing on the skill sets that will be honed in a daycare center that can be applied to a future restaurant host/hostess position could help change participants’ outlook and increase incentive to stay engaged in their placement.

Provide orientation for subsidized job placement staff prior to DCFS ward employment

One of the most disconcerting responses of the participants in the job placement program was feeling used for cheap labor. Rather than perceiving potential for a long-term relationship with their supervisors, the youth express feeling taken advantage of and doubt about employers’ intentions to keep them on as staff.

While the program is a professional partnership between the job placement sites and the program facilitators, a participant-centered approach is critical to beginning those relationships. In the same way that an unpaid intern is paid in practical on-site experience, the subsidized job placements should reflect compensation in experience and professional relationships for the DCFS ward participants.

An orientation session for the employers stressing the factors and goals of the DCFS ward participants could improve respect and understanding between employer and employee and better prepare employers to make the placement an enriching and mutually beneficial experience.

Train staff to treat DCFS ward participants with respect

 Participants often described feeling treated like “little kids” by the program staff. They perceive stigmatization regarding their DCFS ward status and by their age in comparison to some of the adult clientele that the program aids in job placements.

Just as an orientation session would help relationships between the job placement employers and DCFS ward participants, more extensive training for program staff could improve relationships between the program staff and the DCFS ward participants. Those responsible for training participants ought to be training by example – exercising professionalism, respect and compassion in the program.

While these suggestions are by no means comprehensive, they provide a good launch pad for resourcing youth aging out of alternative care.

 A job placement program can open new doors for vulnerable youth who must secure provision and protection in new ways when they are no longer under the care of the State. Stable employment must be made a priority as it can serve as an alternative to the harmful, yet alluring provision of gang membership, theft, or trusting false promises of protection.

These needs are mirrored across the globe. While this Chapin Hall study focuses on a job placement program here in Cook County, similar studies in other nations could help us tackle the global vulnerabilities of youth aging out of care. The Transitions Initiative seeks to do just that. Keep an eye on IOFA intern Sarah’s updates from Addis Ababa, where she is researching the experiences of youth aging out of care there.


 A sincere thank-you to Amy Dworsky and Judy Havlicek at Chapin Hall – University of Chicago for their research and shared results.

Dworsky, A. & Havlicek, J. (2010). Experiences of Foster Youth in an Employment Training and Job Placement Program. Chicago: Chapin Hall at the University of ChicagoPhoto: http://philosophy.uchicago.edu/graduate/placement.html


Alexa Schnieders

Program Development Intern

Welcome to Addis Ababa, Sarah!

July 4, 2013


After finishing my undergraduate degree, I had the incredible opportunity to live and work in South India, teaching girls and young women conversational English and volunteering at different women’s organizations.  It was there that I fell in love with youth-centered service work, and am now pursuing my Masters in Social Work at the University of Chicago, focusing on international social work.  After graduating, I hope to find work with an internationally-focused organization that invests in, supports, and empowers vulnerable youth and young adults around the world. 

I am excited to start my work as the Transitions Initiative Intern with IOFA!  This summer, I will be in Addis Ababa doing research on the experience of adolescents who have left institutional care (orphanages, group homes, etc.) to make their own way in the world.  Youth and young adults who lack the support of family networks face severe challenges in transitioning to adulthood, and are much more vulnerable to the problems of exploitation, poverty, and violence.  Throughout the next two months, I will be working with local organizations to identify and interview individuals who grew up without traditional family support and record their transition stories.

I have been in Addis for only 10 days, but am already falling in love with the city and its people.  As I meet with organizational directors, humanitarian workers, and children at group homes/orphanages, I am learning much about the needs of these youth and am energized and inspired to continue the amazing work that IOFA does with the Transitions Initiative. 

Sarah Lyn Jones

Transitions Initiative Intern

Cook County DCFS Youth Recount their Experiences with Job Training Program


Many adolescents in DCFS care experience instability in their living situations, education, and relationships with trusted adults. Accordingly, they often face heightened risks of unemployment, homelessness, incarceration and exploitation. There are many programs that offer assistance to youth in alternative care in their search for long-term independence and employment.

A study done by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago offers insight into the participants’ experiences with a program in Cook County. The program facilitates four weeks of employment training in a classroom setting followed by subsidized job placements for up to two months. These new employees ideally then transition into unsubsidized, stable placements.

The feedback from participants has been discouraging. Below are some of their remarks noted by the Chapin Hall study:

Foster youth participants describe the training space as chaotic and disorganized:

And then he’s (staff) screaming….The teacher can’t control the class. In my last class, when I had orientation it was over 40 students in one class. It was like all the chairs was packed and full.

They also dislike the use of worksheets and packets that created a schoolroom environment:

When I first joined [the program], and I told them like if I wanted to be in school, I would go to school. But me coming here to find more skills and a better way to get a job for me….Y’all basically trying to teach me it like it’s school and you can’t do that with everybody.

Participants also seem frustrated by the training content, particularly the emphasis on hygiene:

Like it’s sheer stupidity. How you going to teach me how to brush my teeth? How you going to teach—I mean teach me something about the job, please. Don’t teach me something about stuff that I already know.

…But they don’t teach you what to do if you get the job and if you keep it.

The participants were equally disappointed by their job placements not matching their stated preferences:

It’s just—yeah you’ve got placement in an appointment and they give you a little sheet and you go “oh. I’ve got to go here to work?”

Moreover, many participants stated feeling used for free labor:

They’re not even looking for to hire anybody permanently. They just looking for free help.

Many foster youth participants also report feeling disrespected by both the program staff and by the staff in their job placement:

They treat us like they have the key to our life. Like if we don’t give them highly utmost respect and humble ourselves to them.

Something has gone awry. A program meant to empower youths transitioning out of alternative care is resulting in complaints of disorganization, lack of appropriate training, ill-suited job placements and perceived disrespect. En lieu of a stepping-stone in the transition to emancipation and adulthood, participants report perceptions of condescension and feeling used for cheap labor.

How can such programs ensure that its participants feel respected and supported as they seek entrance to the workforce? How can it better equip them to thrive once they are in the workplace? What factors ought to be taken into account in implementing an employment training and placement program for youths exiting foster care?

More on this next week.

Alexa Schnieders

A sincere thank-you to Amy Dworsky and Judy Havlicek at Chapin Hall – University of Chicago for their research and shared results.

Dworsky, A. & Havlicek, J. (2010).Experiences of Foster Youth in an Employment Training and Job Placement Program. Chicago: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago

Photo: Graffiti by Banksy, London. Retrieved from http://reach-west.com/2013/05/youth-employment-and-the-dangerous-summertime-blues/