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



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