By Michael Sweet.
Foster kids are just like any other kind of kids… except that they aren’t. That’s confusing, I know – let me explain.
Foster kids are just like any other kind of kids – meaning they have the same needs, wants, desires as any other kid their age. They require basic human needs: love, attention, food and shelter. Foster kids are different from other kids in that they sometimes don’t know where those basic needs will come from. They can bounce from home to home, year after year, never knowing permanency. With luck, they will get adopted out of the foster care system. Unfortunately some kids don’t have that kind of luck.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, young adults at age 24 earn approximately $1,500 per month while California’s young adult foster population earns about $700 per month. Additionally, while 70% of foster youth plan to attend college, studies show that only 3-11% actually complete a bachelor’s degree.
“Our County, our Board of Supervisors, our county manager have made foster youth and improving the outcomes for foster youth, a priority for years,” explains Donna Vaillancourt, San Mateo County’s Human Resource Manager.
San Mateo County developed its Supported Training and Employment Program (STEP). The concept for the program is a simple one: To provide recently emancipated foster young adults with a 12-week paid internship with the county. Once the new intern is placed in a particular department, there are four primary areas of concentration: 1) Job readiness skills training; 2) Job shadowing and employment coaching; 3) Hands-on work experience; and 4) Transitional planning for when the internship is over.
“They are getting a sense of accomplishment, they are getting motivated, they are getting inspired,” says Human Services Analyst Debra Pomeroy.
But the best part of the internship isn’t just the paycheck that goes with the hard work they put in – the best part is the coach.
Each intern is matched within the unit they are placed in with a county staff member who acts as their coach, advisor and mentor. Day in and day out the county employee models and teaches basic job skills as the two work side-by-side. They typically form a bond throughout the months they are together.
But it is not just the interns that benefit from this program; the county benefits, too. A program volunteer since the beginning, San Mateo County Park Ranger Stephen Kraemer has mentored close to a dozen former foster youth.
“It’s not simply just a paycheck or giving money to participants. It actually provides some skills. But at the same time the County is getting something back. They are paid to work for the County and that is exactly what they do,” states Kraemer.
The program works, Kraemer proudly explains. “As public servants, we are committed to serving the community and this is a great opportunity for anybody to interact with the community and to make a difference.”
Foster youth face challenges that other youth don’t, but in San Mateo County they are getting unique opportunities for their future.