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 Pre-Employment Training Prepares Foster Youth for Adulthood

Foster Youth staff pose for a group picture 

Transitioning from school to work can be difficult for anyone, but for some teens in foster families, it can be particularly challenging.

To help those students overcome some of the common difficulties and get valuable work experience, San Diego County Office of Education’s Foster Youth Services Coordinating Program and Homeless Education Services unit oversees the Pre-Employment Traineeship program, also known as P.E.T.

“It really helps you in many ways,” said a 14-year-old who participated this year.

A team of three coaches helps guide 30 to 40 students from throughout the county each year by providing training, support and weekly site visits. The work is in partnership with the local branch of Casey Family Programs, a nationwide nonprofit group focused on foster care, and Promises2Kids, a program that responds to the diverse needs of foster children.

The added help is important to help youth in foster care grow into successful adults because many of the children haven’t had the guidance that others have, said Violeta Mora, a project specialist with SDCOE’s Foster Youth and Homeless Education Services unit.

“Stability is the main thing that we’re trying to do,” she said.

Social workers recommend students between the ages of 13 and 15 for the program each year. For four weeks over their summer break, the children spend 20 hours a week at a participating organization, learning important soft skills such as how to handle the responsibility of a job and how to relate to other people. This year, there were 19 sites taking part, including local businesses, nonprofit groups, schools and libraries.

“The experience of seeing my teen grow and become more responsible in part due to P.E.T. was priceless,” said Rodney Bates, a social worker who recommended one of the students involved in the program this year.

A 15-year-old student who has participated for the past two years said the program offered “a heads-up on life and the first taste of salt and sweat.”

Not only do the students get important experience and mentoring, they also get a stipend based on their performance.

Sam Rigby, a program aide and one of the coaches, said he likes the interaction with the students and knowing that the program is boosting their confidence.

“You can see them really grow,” he said. “It’s important for me to see them succeed and get the experience they need.”

To prepare students for the program, coaches give them work-readiness training that includes introductory skills in business etiquette, grooming, completing a job application, interviewing and writing and thank-you note.

The program focuses on five behaviors: attendance and punctuality, workplace appearance, following directions and accepting feedback, taking initiative and being accountable, and interacting positively with supervisors and co-workers. 

“Those are key concepts that allow you to be successful anywhere in life,” said Mindy Kukich, also a project specialist with Foster Youth and Homeless Education Services.

Some students have even been asked back in subsequent summers or landed part-time jobs after participating in the program.

In addition to the P.E.T. program, the Foster Youth and Homeless Education Services unit also oversees tutoring programs and educational liaisons that work through the county with Child Welfare Services.


Photo: The Pre-Employment Traineeship staff is, from left, Mindy Kukich, Sam Rigby, Dr. Michelle Lustig, Violeta Mora, and Michelle Bailow.