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September 5, 2023

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From the moment they come into foster care and through to adulthood, Promises2Kids provides the hope, support and opportunities  individuals need to change their lives for the better through their programs Camp Connect, Guardian Scholars, Foster Funds and the A.B. and Jessie Polinsky Children’s Center. We spoke with their CEO, Tonya Torosian, about how they are working to create a brighter future for foster children, now and for years to come.

Can you talk about some of the challenges our community faces and how you’re working to overcome them?

San Diego is a great place to live, but not everyone has equitable access to all the opportunities available here. For some people, that lack of access can be in the form of too little income to afford housing, while for others it may be because they are attending a low-performing school, living in an underserved neighborhood or trying to handle mental health issues when resources are scarce. Youth who are, or were, in foster care typically have to deal with all of these challenges at some point, on top of overcoming abuse and neglect, lacking a supportive network and, in the case of youth of color, growing up in a system that, through their disproportionate representation, has demonstrated a clear bias against them.

For 42 years, we have been finding solutions to these challenges and making sure along the way that the primary group we listen to is the youth themselves. In the past few years, we have seen a notable (but still insufficient) shift away from dehumanizing people simply because of their circumstances, especially if they were not of their own making, as is the case with foster youth. Even the smallest amount of decency can go a long way to restoring dignity, which is fuel for believing that the future is indeed brighter. That’s why over the years, we have designed our programs and services to meet the needs of youth wherever they are in their journey through care. Throughout their childhood, we are making sure youth have access to developmental screening and behavioral health services, are able to build peer and sibling relationships and their own self-confidence through regular Camp Connect activities, can access Foster Funds when they need academic support or want to engage in extracurricular activities they otherwise could not afford, and are connected to peer and adult mentors who will help them see their own value. These efforts culminate in our Guardian Scholars program where youth receive 1-on-1 guidance around finishing high school, deciding on an education or training path, and achieving the milestones that establish a foundation for self-sufficient, healthy adulthood.

Any partnership highlights you’d like to share?

In addition to the Workforce Partnership and the San Diego County Office of Education, we are looking at how to continue improving the connection of youth to education, training and jobs by working with the San Diego Community College District to make sure youth coming out of the foster care system have a supportive environment as they begin their post-secondary education. It is so important to have this kind of systemic cooperation, whether it is around housing or food security or caring for our community’s young people. We are all better off when we row in the same direction and ultimately the result is that youth are getting what they need to be successful – which comes back around to benefit us all.

Why is workforce development important to your organization’s mission?

You cannot create a brighter future without knowing how to access the resources that will get you there, and workforce development is at the heart of that. We know from years of experience that youth who have been in foster care, if they do make it through schooling and into a career field, often choose law enforcement or social work because those are the jobs they were exposed to growing up. Those are fine choices, but what if they understood the full range of options and had the opportunity to participate in an internship or apprenticeship to see expand their interests. Because of the Workforce Partnership’s Career Pathways for Foster Youth program, they can! We are all going to work for most of our lives, so starting early to align skills and interests with education and training seems like an ideal way to get the best outcome for both the youth we serve and the places that eventually employ them.

How can San Diegans get involved?

One of the most meaningful differences a person can make for these youth is to let them know you care. The most transformational changes we see in youth come about when they know they have formed a trusting relationship with someone who has volunteered their time and is willing to share their experience in life, simply because they care. For youth who started life without a responsible adult to turn to for love and guidance, this is everything. It is even more impactful when that adult reflects their identity, so we have been investing in focused outreach to Black, Latina/o and LGBTQ community members so we can attract more mentors that reflect these populations, all of which are over-represented in foster care. For more information on ways to get involved, visit

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