Free Legal Help for Current and Former Foster Youth: 1-877-313-3688

Employment

contentsTraining
Job Assistance Programs
Training and Placement Assistance if You Have a Disability
Finding a Job
State of Texas Hiring Preference
Employment Issues
Child Care
Savings
Taxes

No matter what plans you have for education, it is never too early to start thinking about getting a job. Even while you are still in high school, having a job can get you ready for your future by teaching you necessary work skills and allowing you to earn and manage your own money. To help get you started on finding a job that is right for you, visit the jobs section of Texas Youth Connection.

Training

While you may choose to attend college or a vocational school to prepare for a career, you could also select a different path. If you decide that school is not right for you (or not right for you at this time), then it is important to think  about how you will earn money to support yourself. Getting training in at least one area will give you more job choices and increase the amount of money you can earn.

Job training ranges from basic classes that prepare you for what an employer expects (for example, the importance of being on time, being organized and speaking properly) to programs that teach you how to master a profession. Your PAL worker, Transition Center staff, Aftercare case manager, local Texas Workforce Commission office, and school may be able to tell you about basic classes that teach you how to interview for, apply for and handle a job. They can also help you locate to other sources to learn the skills necessary to succeed in your chosen profession. To help plan for your job and living on your own, you should take the Casey Life Skills Assessment, which is an easy-to-use on-line test that provides instant, private feedback.

Job Assistance Programs

You have access to many programs that will give you experience and increase your job options, even if you have not finished high school. A few of these programs are discussed below.

Texas Workforce Commission

The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) offers services and resources related to finding a job and developing your job skills. Foster youth are a priority population for services, which means you can qualify for special programs including training, summer employment and child care assistance. The best way to begin to access these services is to talk to Transition Center Staff, your PAL worker, your Aftercare case manager and others that have contacts with the TWC. Often somebody from the TWC works at the local Transition Center. They can help you show them your eligibility for programs and services and may have information about options that work best for foster youth. You can also visit your local TWC office.

Job Corps

Job Corps is a free program that helps youth aged 16 through 24 learn a trade, obtain a high school diploma or GED certificate and find a permanent job. Job Corps offers hands-on training in more than 100 job areas. The program is self-paced—which means that the length of the program depends on your career goals and how quickly you learn. It can take from eight months to two years to complete the Job Corps program.

While enrolled in the Job Corps program, you receive free housing, meals, basic medical care and a living allowance.

If you want to apply for Job Corps, you must be a U.S. resident or legally eligible to work in the U.S., have limited financial resources (in other words, not have a lot of money), not be on probation or under the supervision of a court and not use illegal drugs.

Texas currently has four Job Corps sites. These sites are in Laredo, El Paso, San Marcos and McKinney. To learn more about Job Corps in Texas and how you can apply, visit the Job Corps or call (800)733-5627.

YouthBuild

YouthBuild is a program that trains unemployed, out-of-school young adults aged 16 through 24 to build and repair affordable housing within their communities. You will receive a stipend (a form of payment or salary) while participating in YouthBuild. Texas currently has eleven YouthBuild programs.

Visit www.youthbuild.org and go to YouthBuild Programs for more information about the programs. You will need to select YouthBuild Directory of Programs and click on Filter Sites and enter Texas in the state field to see the current list of programs. If there is not a YouthBuild program near you, you may be able to join one in another area. You should contact YouthBuild to find out.

AmeriCorps

AmeriCorps State and National program provides programs to youth aged 17 or older who work full or part-time in nonprofit, faith-based and government organizations. Non-profit programs receive funds to address critical community needs in education, public safety, health and the environment. The programs recruit, place, and supervise AmeriCorps members. An allowance is provided to all young adults in the programs. Some programs provide housing. The programs last ten to twelve months. You may also be able to get additional money for college if you finish the AmeriCorps program.

AmeriCorps also offers a few other programs in Texas:
AmeriCorps VISTA: VISTA members help lift people and communities out of poverty by serving full-time to fight illiteracy, improve health services, create businesses and increase housing opportunities.
AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps): This is a ten month, full-time residential program for youth between the ages of 18 and 24. Participants work with charities and government groups to complete service projects.

Visit AmericCorps or call (800)942-2677 for more information about any of the AmeriCorps programs.

Training and Placement Assistance If You Have a Disability

The Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (or DARS) offers a Vocational Rehabilitation (or VR) program that can help you prepare for, find and keep a job if you suffer from a disability. To be eligible for the VR program, you must have a physical or mental disability, such as:

  • Mental illness,
  • Hearing impairment,
  • Back injury,
  • Impaired functioning of arms or legs,
  • Alcoholism or drug addiction,
  • Intellectual disability,
  • Traumatic brain injury; or
  • Other physical or mental disabilities that prevent you from finding and keeping a job.

If you qualify for a VR program, then you can receive services and benefits designed to help you with your unique needs. These services and benefits may include financial help, counseling, training, medical care, assistive devices, job placement assistance, and other services. The VR program also helps students with disabilities to plan the jump from school to work. You should begin working with DARS well before you finish high school. Your high school staff should assist you in contacting DARS and starting the process. Gaining skills needed for a career, learning how to prepare for a job interview or knowing how to stay employed are just a few ways the VR program helps people with disabilities have successful careers.

To find out whether or not you qualify for the VR program, contact the DARS office nearest you and ask for an appointment with one of the counselors. Let the counselor know that you have a disability that prevents you from obtaining or keeping a job. To find the nearest DARS office, call (800)628-5115 or get a list of all the DARS offices. If you are denied a service, have a complaint about their service, or need help applying for services, you can contact the Client Assistance Program at Disability Rights Texas (800)252-9108.

Finding a Job

To find a job you can look online at CareerBuilder, Monster and Craigslist which are some of the major sites. You can also check the classified ads in the local newspaper or just visit places where you think you would like to work and ask if they are accepting applications. Texas Youth Connection has resources listed in their jobs section. Whenever you visit a place about a job, remember to dress neatly because first impressions are very important. The PAL program or other local transition centers can also help you get ready for and find a job. When applying for a job, you will need proper identification and your Social Security number. Once you apply for a job, it is important to follow up with the businesses where you applied—following up shows interest, is very professional, and could set you apart from others who apply.

A great way to gain experience for jobs is by volunteering with a group that interests you, like a charity, hospital or church. By volunteering, you will get valuable experience, help your community, and get potential job references. Also, remember that having a phone number where you can receive calls and messages with a professional sounding voice mail message is very important when you apply for jobs so employers can reach you. Be sure your voice mail is turned on and you regularly check messages and return calls. If your cell phone is turned off because you have not paid the bill, consider getting a basic cell phone plan without texting and data.

State of Texas Hiring Preference

Foster youth and former foster youth who are 25-years-old or younger have a hiring preference for state jobs. That means a current or former foster youth who applies for a state job should be hired for a position before any other applicant who has the same level of qualifications. On the state employment application you will need to respond yes to these questions:

  1. Were you a foster youth under the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services on the day before your 18th birthday?
  2. If yes, are you currently 25 years of age or younger?

Your PAL worker can give you a letter that shows you qualify.

Employment Issues

“At Will” Employment
Texas is an “at will” employment state. This means an employer can fire an employee without having a reason as long as the firing is not based on discrimination or some other illegal reason.

Your Rights in the Workplace
You have rights in the workplace! Dishonest employers may try to take advantage of young workers because they do not think they will know their rights. It is important that you understand your rights and do not feel pressured to allow your manager, co-workers or even customers violate those rights. You must fill out income tax paperwork and you should be paid at least twice a month. Employers should pay you for on-the-job training.

A few of your rights are:

  1. No discrimination. This means that your employer cannot make decisions about your job because of your race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, disability or age
    (age 40 or older). This right applies to all types of job decisions, including hiring, firing, promotions, training, wages and benefits.
  2. No harassment.Workplace harassment is offensive conduct that is based on race, color, national origin, sex (including pregnancy), religion, disability or age (age 40 or older). Harassment can happen in many different ways. It can be verbal (words), physical (touch) or visual (signs or gestures) and can occur at work or away from work. Examples of harassment include offensive
    jokes, racial or ethnic slurs, pressure for dates or sexual favors, unwelcome comments about a person’s religion or religious garments, or offensive graffiti, cartoons or pictures. The harasser can be your manager, a manager in another area, a co-worker, or others in your workplace, such as customers. For workplace harassment to be illegal, the conduct generally must either be very serious or happen often. If you believe you are being harassed at work, you should tell your supervisor or another manager, even if it happens only once or does not seem very serious.
  3. No retaliation. Your employer cannot punish you, treat you differently or harass you if you honestly report job discrimination or help someone else honestly report job discrimination, even if it turns out the conduct was not illegal.
  4. Changed duties for religious or medical reasons. You have a right to request reasonable changes to your workplace or job duties because of your religious beliefs or medical needs. Even though your employer does not have to say “yes” to every request, they should carefully consider each request and whether it would be possible given your job duties. This is known as making “reasonable accommodations.”
  5. Private medical information. You have a right to keep your medical information private. Your employer should not discuss your medical information with others that do not need to know
    the information. The laws enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (or EEOC) also strictly limit what an employer can ask you about regarding your health.
  6. Minimum wage. The minimum wage is the lowest amount that you can be paid for each hour that you work. The minimum wage currently is $7.25 per hour. Because taxes are deducted from your earnings, your paycheck will not simply equal the number of hours that you work times the current minimum wage. Your check stub should explain how your pay was calculated. If you have any questions, you should not be afraid to ask.
  7. Time and a half for overtime. If you work more than 40 hours per work week, you should be paid time and a half. See www.dol.gov for more information.

You may have more workplace rights under other laws or under your company’s own policies. For example, your employer must also provide you a safe working environment.

For additional information or if you have any questions about your rights, you can visit the EEOC’s youth website or contact the Civil Rights & Discrimination Division of the Texas Workforce Commission at (888)452-4778.

Child Care

If you have children but don’t have or can’t afford a safe place for them to stay while you are at work, going to school or looking for a job, there are programs that can help. The Texas Workforce Commission operates the Child Care Management Services program, which helps eligible parents with the costs of child care. The local Texas Workforce Center can tell you if you are eligible for these benefits. You can find your local center by following the Find Locations link and selecting Child Care Assistance for Service Type. You can also find your local center by contacting the Texas Information and Referral Network by calling 211 in Texas or by visiting www.211texas.org.

Foster youth and former foster youth are a priority to receive child care assistance. This means you should be placed at the top of the list to get benefits. Your Aftercare case manager and Transition Center staff can help you establish if you are a priority for services. Discuss it with your local Texas Workforce Commission and have them check the local workforce development board contract.

Savings

Once you have a job, you may want to open a bank account where you can save your money. Usually, banks require that you must be 18 to open a bank account by yourself. If you are under 18, you will need to find a trusted adult who can be the “guardian” on the account until you turn 18. Once the account is set up, you should be able to make your own deposits and withdrawals. The guardian on the account will also be able to deposit or withdraw money from your account—this is the reason to select someone you trust. If you are 18, the agency that provides Aftercare Case Management services in the area where you live can help you get a bank account, even if you are still in extended foster care.

Any money that you earn belongs to you. Be aware that there are limits on how much cash and other assets (including a car) that you can own before you lose some benefits when you leave foster care. If you receive SSI, you can only have $2,000 in resources. You should ask your caseworker how these limits could affect you.  See more information at Managing Your Money and Banking.

Taxes

Once you have a job or a savings account, you may need to file a tax return. Remember that filing a tax return does not mean that you have to pay taxes. For people just starting out, filing a tax return can mean that you will get money back. When you work, your employer subtracts an amount from each paycheck (called “tax withholdings”) and sends that money to the Internal Revenue Service (or IRS). The amount they withhold is an estimate based on IRS rules of the amount of taxes you will owe. The tax return that you file determines whether the estimate is correct. If too much money was withheld from your paycheck, then you will get a refund from the IRS by filing your annual tax return. If not enough money was withheld from your paycheck, you will need to pay the IRS or face serious penalties.

Federal tax returns are due by April 15th every year. Texas does not have an income tax for individuals, so you do not have to file a state tax return if you lived and worked only in Texas during
the past year.

By January 31st of each year, your employer will mail you a Form W-2. Any bank where you had an account should mail you a Form 1099. The Form W-2 from your employer will show how much they paid you and how much tax they withheld in the prior year. The Form 1099 from your bank will show how much interest your money earned. You will need these forms to complete your tax return. If you don’t receive a form from each of your employers and banks by the end of the first week of February, you should contact them.

You should discuss taxes with the family with whom you are living (or lived with during the past year) because you need to understand how they will treat you on their tax return.

You do not need to pay a company to prepare your taxes. Visit the IRS website to find out if you need to file a tax return and, if you do, whether you qualify to electronically file your tax return for free. The IRS website also has other information about taxes. Many local groups provide free tax return preparation assistance and counseling for low-income persons in the early part of each year.
Call 211 to find volunteer income tax assistance (VITA) sites near you. Don’t pay to have your tax return prepared!

additional

Starting Your Own Business

Job Training, Readiness and help finding:

Resources for Young Adults:

*Indicates a resource developed by the Texas Foster Youth Justice Project, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc. or Texas C-Bar. Please download, copy, and distribute. Complete Resource List