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November 01, 2014

New Federal Law Strengthens Job Skills for Foster Youth

Howard Davidson

The views expressed herein have not been approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association, and accordingly, should not be construed as representing the policy of the American Bar Association.

Youth who are in or have left foster care now have new federal priority for job training services. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), P.L.113-128, was enacted on July 22, 2014 and takes effect on July 1, 2015.

This law helps job seekers and workers access employment, education, training, and support services to succeed in the labor market. It matches employers with skilled workers needed to compete in the global economy. Congress passed WIOA, the first legislative reform of the public workforce system in more than 15 years, by a wide bipartisan majority. The Act affects how states conduct their federally funded Workforce Development Programs.

The WIOA expands youth employment program services for out-of-school youth. Local areas must increase the percentage of youth formula funds used to serve out-of-school youth to 75 percent from 30 percent under current law. The Act also removes service income eligibility requirements for most out-of-school youth and raises the eligible age for such youth to include the 16 through 24 age group.

The Act also places a new priority on work-based learning by providing that at least 20 percent of local youth formula funds be used for work experiences such as summer jobs, pre-apprenticeship training, on-the-job training and internships that include academic and occupational education. The Act also links services to the attainment of secondary school diplomas, entry into postsecondary education and career readiness, and to the attainment of postsecondary credentials aligned with in-demand industry sectors or occupations. Additional allowable activities include financial literacy education and entrepreneurial skills training.

These changes in federal job training legislation should also provide more opportunities for current and former youth in foster care to participate in the Department of Labor’s YouthBuild program. It provides significant academic and job skills training and leadership development to youth ages 16-24. YouthBuild serves approximately 7,000 youth annually. Its programs offer innovative education programs that provide individual instruction leading to a GED or high school diploma.

Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (relevant section)


(24) Individual with a barrier to employment.--The term ``individual with a barrier to employment'' means a member of 1 or more of the following populations:

* * *

(H) Youth who are in or have aged out of the foster care system



 (a) Youth Participant Eligibility.--

  (1) Eligibility.--

    (A) In general.--To be eligible to participate in activities carried out under this chapter during any program year an individual shall, at the time the eligibility determination is made, be an out-of-school youth or an in-school youth.

    (B) Out-of-school youth.--In this title, the term `out-of-school youth'' means an individual who is--

               (V) … in foster care or has aged out of the foster care system, a child eligible for assistance under section 477 of the Social Security Act [42 U.S.C. 677 – The Foster Care Independence, a.k.a. Chafee Act], or in an out-of-home placement.


Howard Davidson, JD, is the director of the ABA Center on Children and the Law, Washington, DC.