They are rare moments, moments when the security industry can do something that's not only in its own best interest but could also forge enormous social change. Change lives, even save lives. This may be one of those moments.
As the industry desperately searches for more bodies to send to the barricades, necessity has forced it to be much more creative in where it looks. Veterans, retired law enforcement, gamers, high schoolers, the neurodiverse — they're all getting a close look to see if any among them would be interested in and suited for a career in cybersecurity.
But perhaps the biggest and most potent army-in-waiting is still getting little more than the stink eye. They're foster kids and there are lots of them — an estimated 435,000 just in the US. They're desperate for any opportunity to prove themselves worthy and are far more likely to go that extra mile for any employer willing to show such faith in them.
And if we're serious about encouraging more young women to consider careers in cybersecurity, foster care to the rescue. There are an estimated 50,000 young women, aged 12–18, in foster care at any given time. So let's give them an opportunity.
Helping foster kids find a place in the world, and especially in the world of security, could be life-changing. Even life-saving. According to the National Foster Youth Initiative:
- Nearly 2,000 children age out of the US foster care system every 30 days, and one in every five will become instantly homeless.
- 50% of foster kids who age out of the system still won't have any form of gainful employment by the age of 24.
- There is less than a 3% chance for children who have aged out of foster care to earn a college degree at any point in their life.
- Seven out of 10 girls who age out of the foster care system will become pregnant before the age of 21.
If the security industry is worried that foster kids are too broken to be trusted, they might be right. But just not right enough to completely ignore the thousands of foster youth who might be absolutely perfect for a career in cybersecurity and a place on your team, if only given the chance. Someone like Joyous "Joy" Huggins, whose LinkedIn profile suggests she's just about the perfect candidate for all kinds of security roles. After a stint in the Navy, Joy earned an undergraduate degree in cybersecurity followed by a Master’s in cybersecurity and now works as a threat analyst.
In her spare time, she runs an academy to help underprivileged boys and girls learn the basics of security and privacy. She's the product of one of the toughest foster upbringings imaginable. She was dumped into foster care at just three months old, a product of a family broken by alcoholism, drug addiction, and neglect. Nine homes later, at the age of 21, Joy was dumped back out of the foster system and left to fend for herself.
"People tend to prejudge foster kids because they simply misunderstand them," according to Huggins. "Sure, many have issues that need to be fixed. That doesn't mean they can't be fixed. And many have issues that are no different to any other young adult trying take those first steps on their own and in a new career."
Joy Huggins is the face of Foster Warriors, a new nonprofit initiative focused on engaging, recruiting, training, and supporting foster youth in preparation for entry-level careers in security. For high schoolers, it means not only teaching students the basics of cyber hygiene, but also teaching them how to be security evangelists and leaders in their own schools.
For older youth, the program includes local peer support and mentoring, extensive online security training (including cyber range training), preparation for entry-level certifications like CompTIA Security+, and hopefully that key first internship. Plus, all the time working with foster care experts to make sure participating students are not just ready emotionally but practically — with access to reliable transportation, personal support networks, a safe and stable home, even guidance on personal financial management.
The biggest hope is that if enough foster kids can be transformed into cyber warriors, we can help to permanently remove the stigma from the word foster, help kids wear foster as a badge of honor instead of shame, and give a new generation some real role models with whom they can truly relate.
The pilot program is being developed in Cincinnati, Ohio, with a team of local partners and supporters before it's introduced nationally. But Foster Warriors won't succeed unless the security community stands up and lets these kids know they'll be wanted and welcomed. You can help — with donations, sponsorships, or simply volunteering some of your time or skills. You can learn more at www.schooledinsecurity.org/foster-warriors. Or contact me directly via email by clicking the envelope icon under my photo. Join Foster Warriors and make a difference.