For Deion Sumpter, the challenges foster care youth face after aging out of the system are too severe to ignore.
“When it comes time for their 18th birthday, they’re on their own,” said Sumpter, a 2018 master’s of social work alumnus. “They have nowhere to go.”
On Saturday, the Employment Connections for Opportunity Youth program will launch to provide career and academic services to foster care youth ages 17-21 who have aged out or are aging out of the foster care system. Temple University’s Center for Social Policy and Community Development will facilitate the launch before it gets transferred to the Center for Community Partnership this fall.
The Center for Community Partnership will continue the current projects of the Center for Social Policy and Community Development, which is operated by the College of Public Health, when it is relocated to the Office of Community Relations on Cecil B. Moore Avenue near 15th Street.
Sumpter, a career coach at the ECOY program, said it’s available to eligible Temple students, but most participants will be non-Temple students “trying to figure out what they’re looking for in life.”
ECOY participants will work with career coaches, pursue paid internships and work experiences and acquire vocational skills that can be applied to industries like business, customer service and information technology. Foster care youth interested in the ECOY program can attend an informational meeting in Ritter Annex room 575 at 9:30 a.m. on Monday.
“[The participants] are making a major life transition, and we’re giving them lots of different choices, different opportunities,” said Michael Clemmons, associate director for Workforce Development at the Center for Social Policy and Community Development. Clemmons is also the acting Vice president for Temple’s Center for Community Partnership.
According to the Pennsylvania State Resource Family Association, a statewide association advocating and providing services and resources for foster children and families, there are about 13,000 to 15,000 children in foster care in Pennsylvania.
About 25 percent of children who were in foster care in the United States don’t graduate high school or pass the GED test, while 20 percent will be immediately homeless once they turn 18 years old, according to the National Foster Youth Institute, a non-profit dedicated to improving outcomes for foster youth and their families. Additionally, more than 23,000 children age out of the U.S. foster care system each year.
“This is not the kids’ fault,” Sumpter said. “No one asks to have inadequate parents.”
The ECOY program is modeled after Temple’s Youth Employment Project, which provides career training opportunities to young adults ages 17-24 who have a high school diploma or GED. However, ECOY will largely focus on giving participants experience in the professional field.
The Center for Social Policy and Community Development received $614,111 in state welfare money in January from the city and Philadelphia Works, a non-profit workforce development agency, to help youth who have aged out of foster care, the Philadelphia Public School Notebook reported.
Deion said the Center for Community Partnership is using the money to partner with local employers to secure paid internships for ECOY participants. He added that participants will be offered free transportation to their jobs and assistance with getting state-issued identification cards.
“We hope these jobs lead to full time experiences, career pathways and even going back to school,” said Joel Culbreath, project supervisor for the ECOY program.
ECOY will also provide math and literacy classes for participants in the program with a below-high school education level. Participants can access the university’s library, GED classes and pre-paid GED assessments.
To prevent financial hardship, ECOY will provide support services and help with tuition to those who plan to pursue higher education.
The program will also be planning tours to cultural institutions like the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., as well as colleges in the tri-state area.
Professional and academic development are keys to ECOY’s success, but Culbreath said love and support are just as important in helping the participants accomplish their goals.
With many different opportunities offered through the program, Clemmons said he hopes ECOY can keep foster care youth on the right track.
“It’s pretty customized in terms of what a young person might need,” he added. “It’s designed to give them that support.”