Paid employment is a common experience in the transition to adulthood. It is also a key path for developing financial independence and relational skills. Research shows that young people with histories of child welfare involvement work less often and earn lower wages during the transition to adulthood than their peers without this experience. However, little is known about whether programs that aim to improve employment outcomes for young people with histories of child welfare system involvement are actually improving employment outcomes.
A key finding from the Multi-Site Evaluation of Foster Youth Programs is that many programs serving Chafee-eligible young people are not ready for rigorous evaluation because they lack a clearly articulated logic model or are not implemented as intended. To address some challenges for rigorous impact evaluations of programs, we conducted formative evaluations for two employment programs—MY TIME in Chicago, Illinois, and iFoster Jobs in Los Angeles, California. Each program had a model of potential national interest and served enough young people so they might be well-suited for future rigorous impact studies. These programs differed in their employment-related goals and the young people they served, and thus served different roles in their participants’ development. Together, these formative evaluations highlight the importance of building a better understanding of the variations in programs serving young people with histories of child welfare system involvement. This study aims to expand our understanding of what these variations in employment programs are and how they bolster different developmental assets for young people.
Primary Research Questions
- What are the key components and strategies of employment programs?
- How do those components and strategies relate to a developmental asset framework?
- What are key considerations for future research, development, and implementation of employment programs?
This study is not meant to represent the full range of employment programs. Rather it points to key considerations for future research, development, and implementation of employment programs, addressing a gap in understanding about the variation in employment programs and highlighting some important policy and practice implications about these programs. This brief describes three employment programs’ key components and strategies and presents visualized snapshots that distill the components and strategies into a developmental asset framework. The brief also provides recommendations for policymakers, program developers, and program implementers, as well as for future research.
Key Findings and Highlights
Through our analysis of the three programs included in our virtual site visits, as well as our prior formative evaluation work with iFoster Jobs and MY TIME, we developed a clearer understanding of the roles that a program’s forms (or setting) and functions play in how employment programs serve young people at different stages in their transition to adulthood. For example, a residential program can take the form of a youth housing program and provide a career exploration function by providing training in a particular field such a culinary or pet grooming. Or a different residential program may focus on connecting participants to early work experiences and help participants begin to manage household budgets without a direct focus on a specific career pathway.
If we are to learn about whether employment programs are effective, it is important to understand how the form and functions of programs align with program goals and developmental assets.
We examined three programs, The Bike Union, Find Your Future, and Works Wonders and classified them by the forms they take and the functions they serve and illustrate how what they do aligns with different developmental assets: This study highlights the relative emphasis that different employment programs (with different forms and functions) place on different developmental assets and the strategies they use to promote each.