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Employment for Youth in Foster Care - Social Workology

Employment for Youth in Foster Care

Youth in Foster Care Employment Statistics

According to Child Trends, the number of youth who were both in high school and employed in 2017 was about 19.5%. This has declined since 1993, where they were seeing high school youth employed at around 30.5%. While the decline is disturbing, the employment levels for youth with foster care experience is abysmal. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, only about 3 out of 5 youth who have aged out of foster care are employed at 24. They continue to have lower rates of employment than their same age peer and significantly lower earning levels up to 24 years old.

Their first success

Youth who work state that through employment they have gained the “capacity to take responsibility, develop time-management skills, overcome shyness with adults, and handle money“. These are valuable life lessons that plan out in ever piece of everyday life. Life skills classes are great but nothing compares to the real-life, in the moment education of having a job. Sometimes, having a job is the first success that my clients have been able to call their own. There are so many important life skills that youth in foster care need but the ability to maintain employment and learn those skills early on, is one of the most important thing a social worker can impart on their clients.

How we can help

How can we help at-risk youth and youth in care to become employed? We encourage them to seek normalcy everywhere they can. Youth in foster homes, residential, and kin placements need to be encouraged to go get jobs when they’re of age to do so. Too often I hear, “but they need to show stability, they need to be engaged in therapy, they need get better grades, they need to focus on school”, Blah Blah Blah. Having a job can actually help with these things. Youth with purpose tend to be more motivated to keep the things that benefit them than those who have nothing.


  • Allow youth to practice employment skills
  • Encourage them to get a job
  • Help them figure out realistic work schedule based on their availability
  • Let them enjoy their money and also teach them to budget with it
  • Ask them tell you what they value about having a job, it is a conversation that will sit them for a long time


  • Never hold employment over their heads to get them to do something (grades, therapy, not running away)
  • Don’t take their paychecks and budget it for them
  • Never embarrass them at work, create a plan in advance about your expectations
  • Don’t take the job away if they make a mistake, use it as a teaching moment

Prudent Parent Standard

With the development of the Prudent Parent standard in foster care, care providers have a little more leeway when it comes to normalcy for youth. Allowing youth to take the bus to get to work and hold a part time job is completely reasonable and should be encouraged. Employment is so valuable for youth self-esteem and long-term outcomes. I have seen youth who weren’t motivated to do a single thing but became motivated by the money they make from a job.

Role of Permanency

One important trend did appear through the US Department of Health and Human Services report, youth who reported connectedness had better rates of employment than those who had lower rates. This highlights the role of human connection, the foundation of all humanity. If we really want to help youth, we need to work on permanency and life long connections alongside life skills. Statistically, this will lead to better employment outcomes.



As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, I often view the world through this lens. Social work shapes how I interact and understand every part of my life. Through social justice, policy, and even my own parenting, I am guided to view the world as a social worker.

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