create / 2020

Operation Emancipation

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Grants Challenge by The RightWay Foundation

The RightWay Foundation does critical preventative work to end the pipeline from foster care to homelessness, unemployment, incarceration, and poverty by providing foster youth with mental health services, job training, community support, and connections to opportunities in the workforce. With the economy fractured due to COVID-19 and rampant homelessness, the need in Los Angeles for employment-focused mental health services for transition-age foster and reentry youth is greater than ever.

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • San Gabriel Valley
  • San Fernando Valley
  • South LA
  • South Bay
  • Antelope Valley
  • County of Los Angeles
  • City of Los Angeles

In what stage of innovation is this project?

Expand existing program

What is the need you’re responding to?

California houses the largest foster care system in the country, and more than 38% of foster youth in California live in LA County. For foster youth exiting the system, the statistics are bleak. In LA County, over 50% of former foster youth will be unemployed by age 24. 50% of foster youth will experience homelessness within 2-4 years of emancipation. The unemployment rate of former foster youth is rooted in unresolved trauma from the foster care system, with the rate of PTSD for former foster youth more than twice that of Iraq War Veterans. 50% of foster youth do not graduate from high school, and only 3% of foster youth earn a college degree.

25% of foster youth will be incarcerated within two years of emancipation. 85% of the young women picked up in sex trafficking raids are from the child welfare system. 80% of men incarcerated in California have been touched by the foster care system. The foster care system, especially for young boys of color, is a pipeline to prison.

Why is this project important to the work of your organization?

In 2011, Franco Vega, a former orphan and probation youth, founded RightWay to provide LA County transition-age foster youth with support and training to acquire and maintain employment. Within months, in recognition of the unresolved trauma creating barriers to job retention, Franco pioneered Operation Emancipation, RightWay’s flagship trauma-informed program to address past trauma and support successful employment by integrating mental health with employment services for foster youth working toward a stable adulthood. Now in our ninth year, RightWay has served as a lifeline for over 440 foster and reentry youth. RightWay’s effective programs challenge negative outcomes and upend statistics.

The COVID-19 pandemic is devastating for RightWay youth, with 90% of them losing employment. By expanding services, RightWay will ensure that transition-age youth have access to the tools and opportunities they need to weather hardship and reach toward an enriching, secure life.

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this proposal?

Direct impact
Indirect impact

Please describe the broader impact of your proposal.

Through our core programs, RightWay serves foster youth and reentry youth, ages 18-26, from all over LA County, some referred by judges or the Department of Children and Family Services and some who find us through other youth. Of the youth RightWay serves, 90% are African-American; 9% are Latino. RightWay works to counter both economic and racial inequality for our youth. In our wider outreach and workshops, RightWay has served over 2500 foster youth and reentry youth with employment readiness, hiring services, and financial literacy classes. Our employment partners benefit from our Trauma-informed Employer Training.

We seek to end the cycle of trauma that leads our youth to homelessness, incarceration, unemployment, and poverty.

Please explain how you will define and measure success for your project.

RightWay’s programs counter resistance to mental health treatment with the goal of a long-lasting job, building bridges to employers, housing, and support that enable youth to cross from a point of trauma and isolation to the permanent footing of self-sufficiency and community.

Our flagship program, Operation Emancipation, provides trauma-informed mental health and employment services, including therapy, job training, financial literacy, and employment placement, to transition-age foster youth, ages 18-26, who are emancipating from the foster care system in LA County.

Operation Second Chance, RightWay’s program for reentry and crossover youth, provides trauma-informed mental health and employment services to youth who have been involved with the criminal justice and foster systems and have difficulty acquiring gainful employment due to their criminal background. In the current climate of California’s changing laws regarding criminalization and with the increasing number of construction and technology job opportunities in Los Angeles, there is no better time to focus on career-path training for formerly incarcerated youth.

RightWay’s pilot program, Operation Positive Parenting, aims to stop the foster care cycle for foster youth who risk losing their children to the very system that failed them. The program provides individualized parenting support, employment services, and mental health services to help young parents connect with their children through empathy and build a nonviolent, nurturing environment.

RightWay’s central goals are to increase social capital, increase work readiness, employment, and job retention rates, and increase access to mental health services and overall emotional wellbeing for transition-age foster and reentry youth. Our anticipated outcomes are to see 100% of youth reporting an increase in social support and decrease in social isolation, a minimum of 80% of program participants securing and retaining employment, and a minimum of 70% of participants receiving individual therapy reporting progress toward identified treatment goals and decreases in symptoms and behaviors related to their mental health diagnoses.

We measure outcomes by administering pre and post surveys during the intake process, the 3-month, 6-month, and 12-month periods, by collecting employment verification and paycheck stubs, and by evaluating a client’s self-reporting during clinical sessions.

Which of the create metrics will your submission impact?​

  • Income inequality
  • Economic opportunities for formerly incarcerated
  • Unemployment rate

Are there any other LA2050 goal categories that your proposal will impact?

  • LA is the best place to LEARN
  • LA is the best place to PLAY
  • LA is the best place to CONNECT
  • LA is the healthiest place to LIVE

Which of LA2050’s resources will be of the most value to you?

  • Access to the LA2050 community
  • Host public events or gatherings
  • Communications support
  • Strategy assistance and implementation