INDIANAPOLIS — Only 51% of foster youth report being employed at age 21, compared to 61% of their non-foster care peers. That's according to a local nonprofit “Foster Success.”
Because of this statistic and recognizing the many challenges foster youth have coming out of the system, they are now launching a new initiative aimed at providing work opportunities for former foster youth.
“It means a lot because, wow, I never even imagined being in this situation,” said Christellee Ntshila.
Ntshila entered the foster care system when she was 16. As she aged out a few years later, she learned about Foster Success, a statewide nonprofit that supports foster youth as they age out of care. Now, at 22, she is in college and credits getting there to Foster Success.
“Navigate financial things for school, items for school, and also they help me with job opportunities,” Ntshila said. “Like an internship, they always reach out to me if I’m interested or if they have an opportunity they just always reach out to me. And help me build my résumé and things of that nature.”
“Outside of caseworkers and maybe some teachers that they’ve connected with, they don’t necessarily have the same network of adult support from parents or their families to connect them to other professionals in the workplace,” Dr. Maggie Stevens, Foster Success President and CEO said.
Stevens said Indiana does have extended foster care support for people up when they age out of the system.
“But at Foster Success, we are not case managers," Stevens said. “We are providing the additional support that young people need, not just their basic needs like housing, but we are working to provide them with the skills that they need for long-term success.”
Starting in October, they will be expanding beyond their current services of educational support, job training and financial literacy to launching a brand new Workforce Readiness program.
“It kind of blew my mind listening to some of our young people not knowing what was available to them,” Stevens said. “They really thought if I didn’t go to college, that I’m going to be working in fast food or retail forever.”
They’re connecting them to companies and job opportunities in industries like healthcare, tech, and different trades where they might not need a college degree.
“I feel like they can benefit a lot, because think about it,” Ntshila explained. “When you’re in foster care, the first thing you hear about is once you age out, what are you going to do? You’re going to start working, you’re going to college.”
And for this former foster youth, she said it was hard to know where to start. But Foster Success helped her, and is now working to help others find their path.
“They just don’t do something little, they do something big,” Ntshila said. “Every day it just keeps getting bigger and bigger and it helps so many youths out there.”
In October, they will be working with 20 former foster youth for their first cohort. Thanks to a five-year grant from the Lily Endowment, their goal is to bring 200 people into the program over the next five years.
If you’re an adult working with a teenager in foster care and want to refer them, or you’re an employer looking to host foster youth, you can reach out to t them by visiting fostersuccess.org.