The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors last week signed off on a slate of recommendations aimed at doing a better job of knocking down barriers that hamper transition age foster youths’ access to employment- and work-related services.
The recommendations by the Los Angeles Opportunity Youth Collaborative (OYC) followed a study detailing multiple problems that limit the effectiveness of the county’s automated referral system and its ability to connect young adults ages 14 to 24 who have grown up in the child welfare systems to the jobs they need.
The collaborative is a group of about 50 organizations whose mission is to help these “transition age” foster youth develop the skills they need to support themselves and thrive as adults.
More than 10,000 transition age youth live in L.A. County — more than in any other county in the country. And for many of them, the inability to find and keep good jobs is one of their biggest life hurdles.
Director of the collaborative, Lauri Collier, said Los Angeles County has a robust system of essential public workforce programs available to transition age foster youth, including opportunities to participate in short-term, resume-building, paid work experiences, as well as programs with other intensive supportive services to help them achieve their education and career goals. The problem is that accessing and enrolling in the programs requires cutting through a maze of red tape hampered by computer systems that can’t talk to each other, Collier said, “resulting in a public workforce system that is often difficult to navigate not only for youth, but also for social workers, caregivers and community-based organizations.”
One stark illustration: Seven local workforce development boards operate one or more workforce programs accessed through more than 40 workforce center locations scattered throughout the sprawling county.
“While each workforce development board is independent, they administer many of the same federal, state and locally funded workforce programs, though sometimes under different names and with varying practices and policies that are locally determined,” Collier said.
That fragmentation results in a bunch of other inefficiencies that the county hopes to tackle in part by addressing the problems found in the OYC report. They included bureaucratic confusion about basics like eligibility — not all the programs use the same definition of who qualifies as a foster child.
Further, the automated referral system’s computerized databases can’t communicate with one another, making it hard to keep tabs on the status of cases, what services and programs are already full and which are wanting for participants.
For this population of young people, bureaucratic obstacles are especially problematic. Many believe that the public systems designed to help them have often failed to do so, leaving clients discouraged and unmotivated to follow through.
For former foster youth Taneil Franklin, another common problem became an obstacle — she lacked the documents she needed to apply for jobs. Not having an original birth certificate when she needed it cost her at least one employment opportunity, she said.
At first, the Department of Children and Family Services told her they could get her one, but it turned out to be more difficult than expected, and by the time she finally got it, the job had slipped away.
“It was frustrating,” said Franklin, a 20-year-old political science major who harbors dreams of law school, “because I felt like I had the answer, but then I had to keep going all these different routes to get it.”
Getting youth into employment programs once they’ve been referred has also been an issue. During the period of time studied by the youth collaborative — February to September 2019 — 30% of the 584 youth could not be contacted, 24% didn’t complete the enrollment process, and 14% declined the opportunity, sometimes because they already had work or were enrolled in school. Just 20% enrolled in the programs offered in the study period.
The collaborative’s recommendations for changes to the automated referral process center on three areas: developing more efficient communication among agencies, increasing the chances youth enroll at their closest workforce center, and being more transparent in understanding what happens after a youth is referred.
In a system this challenged, a less dogged person might have chucked the whole idea of getting help. But Franklin is now working with Opportunity Youth Collaborative as a youth engagement intern.