Let's Seize this Opportunity and Keep the Focus on Disconnected Youth
By Kisha Bird
On Monday, the White House Council for Community Solutions held its final summit to culminate an 18-month process of bringing together myriad stakeholders in and outside the beltway to better understand the challenges facing youth ages 16 to 24 that are out of school and out of work. Across the country, there are 6.7 million "opportunity youth." The Council's aim has been to raise solutions to help reconnect these youth to education and jobs and the opportunity to realize their potential.
During Monday's summit, the Council released its final report, Community Solutions for Opportunity Youth, which provides recommendations for steps the federal government can and should take to continue elevating national awareness of the issues facing "opportunity youth," as well as a roadmap for implementing effective cross-agency policies and supporting community-level interventions. CLASP applauds the Council's important work and we are thrilled to see that many of its final recommendations include policies CLASP and the Campaign for Youth have long-advocated for, including: drive development of successful cross-sector community collaboratives, create shared national responsibility and accountability, engage youth as leaders in the solution and build more robust on-ramps to employment.
In 2008, the Campaign for Youth, a national coalition co-chaired by CLASP, released recommendations for a National Investment Strategy that focused on out-of-school and out-of-work youth ages16 to 24. Endorsed by over 250 organizations nationwide, the recommendations called for five primary strategies, driven by federal policy and designed to support local innovation, collaboration, and policy.
- Invest in communities of high youth distress and build off the success of the Youth Opportunity Grant program of integrating new and existing services and funding streams to support comprehensive youth programming across systems and involving a variety of local stakeholders.
- Invest in promising practices and innovations of what is currently working with this youth population and scale up efforts for which there is strong demand.
- Build pipelines to employment, in partnership with the business community, to ensure youth have access to work experience and service opportunities. Scale up successful work-based programs, including paid work experience, internships, apprenticeships, community service, and on-the-job training and opportunities for youth to participate in activities that lead to postsecondary skills and credentials.
- Develop an accountability, training, and technical assistance system that is aligned across government departments and agencies and that improves program quality without stifling innovation.
- And of course, involve young people impacted by federal services and policies to be a part of the development and implementation of policy solutions.
It's a positive step to see many of these recommendations adopted by the Council, but the youth advocacy community and stakeholders cannot let this report end up on a bookshelf to collect dust. The good news is that these are actionable recommendations, some of which, though limited, have already been initiated. In particular, the recent establishment of the Interagency Workgroup on Disconnected Youth is promising and one vehicle to continue the Council's thoughtful work. Moving forward, stakeholders also have an opportunity to shape federal policies through the reauthorizations of key youth legislation—including the Workforce Investment Act, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families—so that they better serve disconnected youth.
While federal policy is a significant lever in changing the game for youth, local communities are at the heart of creating sufficient options for young people to work and have education pathways to get back on track. To meet the challenge in helping all youth realize their promise, leadership from all sectors is required.
The Communities Collaborating to Reconnect Youth (CCRY) Network, which CLASP leads and that is an outgrowth of communities that started with the Youth Opportunity Movement, is focused on cross-system work on behalf of disconnected youth. The CCRY Network, designed to share lessons, the latest innovative strategies for reaching youth, and success stories, will continue to be an important effort for expanding community-level solutions for youth.
We encourage you to learn more about the CCRY network, CLASP's youth work and explore CLASP's recent Keeping Youth Connected series, which includes a set of tools and resources to help local communities, data profiles with community-specific information, and Finding the Will: A Guidebook for Using Youth Distress Data to Promote Community Advocacy and Action.