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Derek’s plight was exactly what the Kern County stakeholders had in mind when they convened in 2013 to identify the needs of Transition Age Youth. Twenty system-involved youth, along with representatives from Kern County Mental Health, Kern County Department of Human Services Independent Living Program (ILP), and representatives from community housing programs, participated in a series of meetings to vote on service priorities for this vulnerable population. A clear consensus emerged; jobs and education were identified as the greatest needs facing youth and young adults living in Bakersfield.
This stakeholder collaboration followed an extensive training in the Transition to Independence Process (TIP) Model™, an evidence supported practice designed to improve the outcomes of youth and young adults with emotional and behavioral difficulties. One of the TIP system guidelines recommends “involving young people, parents, and other community partners in planning and guiding transition services”. The Kern County stakeholders recognized that effectively supporting youth like Derek, and the many others aging out of foster care, probation and children’s mental health in furthering their education and getting jobs would require significant collaboration – no one provider could do it alone.
The Kern County TAY Career Development program was launched. The Kern County Mental Health Department took the lead in busting out of the usual service silos, and reached out to Employer’s Training Resource to join the project and provide their vital expertise in vocational training and job coaching. Kern High School District also signed on as a sub-contractor to offer job development and placement services.
In order for the collaboration with multiple agencies to be successful, the Transition Age Youth team wanted to ensure that all planning partners spoke the same language. Therefore, the team invited all key players who may be involved in the transition process to learn the TIP Model. Partnering agencies and staff from Employer’s Training Resource, Kern High School District, social workers, probation officers, Independent Living Program (ILP) staff, and group home staff all participated in the TIP trainings.
Derek enrolled in the new program and picks up his story:
Participants work twenty hours per week for eight weeks at their “externship” sites. The available externship sites are varied and placement is tailored to meet each person’s individual strengths and interests, as well as how close their homes are to the sites. Examples of externships include daycare centers, the Garden Spot, Pac-Sun, Footlocker, CVS, and maintenance work at apartment complexes. Once an externship has ended, their employers have the opportunity to hire them as permanent employees. For the youth who do not get hired, an Employer’s Training Resource job developer continues to work with them one-on-one to find permanent employment.
TAY programs can do much to either serve as on-ramps to futures of higher education, career opportunities and valued roles, or be pathways to life-times of poverty, disability and marginalization. Kern County is demonstrating that when youth and young adults like Derek, are supported by effective partnerships between mental health practitioners, business leaders, educators and job trainers, they can go far.