Hot Skills Foster Care Pilot: Tracking Our Progress

Your patronage of this website helps us create an evidence-based model for workforce development for youth who have experienced foster care or are growing up without a stable family support structure.


Aging out of the foster care system in the United States — is the moment you either fall or rise.

Knowing how to take care of yourself financially is the difference between a life of struggle or a life of stability and meaning.

Sadly, far too many – real people, with real dreams – fall short.

Forty-seven percent of former foster children are unemployed. Even former foster youth who do have jobs run into trouble supporting themselves. Children’s Rights reports that more than 71 percent report an annual income less that $25,000.

Instead of a strong start in life, the vicious cycle of unemployment, homelessness and brushes with the criminal justice system are the norm for too many.

"#hotskillspaybills targets economic outcomes of those who lack parental support. We show them 21st Century skills including the mindsets, habits, and technology."



One of the first few people I came across in my quest to make sense of this issue was CHRIS CHMIELEWSKI.  He started a magazine about foster care, to channel his own experience into positive change. I featured Chris in The No Excuses 90 Day Power Journal: FosteRevolutionaries Inspiration & Stories: Get More Done in 90 Days Than Most Get Done in a Year . This was the nugget of wisdom he shared in the journal that stuck with me:

"I spent 5 years in care before aging out. I spent that time preparing for life after care and still found myself homeless on more than one occasion. Eventually, I found my way, my wife, my calling in life."


It all started with a question…

What if young people who have experienced foster care, developed at least one hot skill that pays the bills?

Teenage girls living in foster care are 21/2 times more likely than other girls to become pregnant by age 19. LA Times


I called up the leading academics in the foster care space to find out the current state of workforce development, and the types of 21st century skills they were learning.

I spoke to foundations who fund nonprofits providing direct services to youth currently in care, as well as those who have aged out.

I met with a lot of foster alumni who are still involved as case workers, social workers, or policy experts.

I even spoke with the woman in charge of distributing $2 billion in federal money under the Chafee Act. She couldn’t point me to any shining best practices either.


There isn’t ONE research-based study that shows a statistically-valid impact of any workforce development programs targeting youth who have experienced foster care. In fact, some interventions have been shown to have a negative impact on outcomes. The one study that targets youth (but not focused on foster care) showed that a longer-term program spanning 21 months or more proved to be more effective than short-term quick fixes.

In this report, “Inside the Black Box: What Makes Workforce Development Programs Successful?” I found this rather illuminating quote:

One of the biggest mistakes of foundations in general, even the public sector, is that…they want immediate outcomes and we can produce immediate outcomes, but not with effectiveness that will change the lives of the participant.

I realized that if I wanted to go down this road, I could not be beholden to corporate interests, foundation grant priorities or even donors looking for heart-warming Facebook posts and selfies with “foster kids.” In essence, I could not do this as a tax-exempt, donation-dependent nonprofit.

Trisha Lester, at the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits, suggested I could be the kind of business that does good and does well.


I started with a group of young people in Baltimore who were receiving services at Hope Forward, a nonprofit run by a foster alumna, Shalita O’Neale (Chris connected me). I designed a program around their specific needs. Hope Forward works with foster alumni who had aged out of the system and already started experiencing homelessness, early pregnancies, unemployment, under-employment and criminal offenses.  Most of them were between the ages of 18-24. Hats off to any agency that does direct services work. They don’t do it for the money – for the most part, they earn peanuts.

It’s fine to read research reports online, but when you actually interact with youth who have aged out, it makes it real.

I showed a young man studying chemical engineering at the local community college, how to monetize his 10,000 Instagram followers through Amazon affiliate commissions. He was in Hope Forward’s program because he needed housing. Even though he tried to take action right there in the workshop, I knew it was too little, too late for him. He was already in dire straits.

A few weeks ago (June/July 2016), I organized a training for Hope Forward’s Youth Works interns on how to use to make a side income.  My goal is if they lose their jobs, are unemployed, or need another income stream, they can earn a side gig.

Teaching is the greatest act of optimism

In the University of Chicago workforce development report, there was some golden nuggets that reflected what I had learned by working with my pilot group of foster alumni in crisis:

I think probably the characteristic that is most important to long-term success is attitude. It’s difficult to measure. It’s subjective…People that come in and that vary in terms of their education background, we see [a range of] people from no GED…to people that have master’s degrees. One is not necessarily [more] successful than the other.

Another key insight:

You could teach them all the skills about getting a job, but they may not land that job because you haven’t dealt with the personal stuff.

#hotskillspaybills POST-PILOT ANALYSIS

These are the conclusions I came to after working with foster youth who have aged out of care and are already in crisis (October 2015 – July 2016).

1/ #hotskillspaybills Must Reach Youth While Still in Foster Care

If we don’t start this process when youth are still in foster care, the wheels of poverty have already been set into motion.

2/ Mindset is a Pre-Requisite and a Competitive Advantage

With automation, globalization, and recessions, we know our students will have to reinvent themselves many times in one lifetime. So while mastering one hot skill that pays the bills is important, we focus equally on showing them how to be resilient, how to have a growth mindset (we love the work of Dr. Carol Dweck). In fact, their adaptability in an ever-changing economic environment is their competitive advantage.

In the long run, an incredible work ethic powered by a growth mindset will serve them better than mastering any one ‘in-demand’ skill. That’s why #hotskillspaybills blends training on money-making skills with mindset skills in a playful and interactive way.

3/ Celebrate Strengths.

Many young people from foster care struggle with academic achievement. They’ve moved several schools, dealt with physical or sexual abuse, and suffer from mental health issues. Quite a few are on psychotropic drugs.

Instead of focusing on what they don’t have, #hotskills must celebrate what they do have: their gifts, talents, and skills. As my mentor Baba Amte said, “When a leprosy patient comes to me, I don’t focus on the seven fingers he has lost, I focus on the three fingers he has left.”

#hotskillspaybills is not traditional career counseling, nor does it take the place of college. It is as much about mindset as it is about mastery of a skill that serves as a “side gig” so even if our students face unemployment or financial hardship, they have a back pocket skill that pays some of the bills, while they search for another job.


The #hotskillspaybills is a 2-year program. This is subject to change with foster alumni input but here is a draft of the proposed curriculum. There are still many unanswered research questions, and challenges, but over time, we will address them. Your support for this site makes this vision into a reality – so thank you for your patronage!




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With #hotskillspaybills, I’m not simply trying to change the economic prosperity of a limited number of youth who have experienced foster care. I see this as a way to end generational poverty.

As one of the contributors to the Fosterevolutionaries journal put it:

"I spent many years in care... through my experiences, I discovered myself, my purpose... We all need to change and progress so our children and future generations won't have to endure our struggles."



I welcome your ideas, questions, and collaboration.

Neesha Mirchandani


An Impact Stars, LLC d/b/a