Date of Award

Summer 8-1-2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Social Work (DSW)

First Advisor

Dr. Johanna K.P. Greeson

Second Advisor

Dr. Page Buck, LSW


Youth aging out of foster care need access to programs that teach translatable job skills. Traditional programs are reported to be ineffective for youth, as they focus on hard job skill development and neglect to focus on developing the whole-person (Edelstein & Lowstein, 2014). If youth lack self-esteem and self-efficacy, they are less likely to perform job duties such as being on time, following directions, trying unknown tasks, and other skills necessary for job retention (Edelstein & Lowenstein, 2014). Programs involving animals have been increasingly utilized in settings that work with people who have experienced adversity and have proven to enhance social/emotional development. Hand2Paw, a Philadelphia non-profit, which provides job skills training to youth through working with shelter animals, identified two community needs: job skills training for youth, and positive training programs for shelter animals. Studies have suggested that at-risk youth are averse to programming that feels paternalistic (Brown & Wilderson, 2010), therefore Hand2Paw utilizes an empowerment approach and encourages youth to become providers of a community service rather than receivers of a service. The following dissertation first seeks to explore the attitudes and beliefs of older foster youth toward participation in the Hand2Paw program. This study utilized structured, qualitative interviews with 7 program graduates and subsequently analyzed findings. Main themes identified included increased self-esteem and feelings of empowerment, development of boundaries, increased patience, empathy, communication skills, introspective skills, and a sense of belonging. Using results from the qualitative study, this dissertation also includes a structured toolkit for programs like Hand2Paw, which outlines group and individual activities embedded in an animal assisted setting, designed to increase job readiness for at-risk youth.

Included in

Social Work Commons