In Focus: Pathways to Reconnection

May 5, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

Medicaid is Critical Support for Citizens Re-entering their Communities from Incarceration

By Andrea Amaechi and Suzanne Wikle

With efforts like “ban the box,” restoration of voting rights, and “Second Chance Pell” grants, the tide is turning for people re-entering communities after incarceration.  New guidance from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) reinforces the importance of access to health care for citizens re-entering their communities, provides clarification of exactly when eligibility for Medicaid begins, and encourages states to help people apply for Medicaid prior to their release. Access to Medicaid is especially important because people in correctional facilities have profound health problems, experiencing dramatically higher rates of mental illness, substance abuse, infectious disease, suicide, and violence than the general population. Medicaid enrollment breaks down an important barrier to establishing stability and provides access to behavioral health care and prescription medication—two resources that may often be critical factors for a successful re-entry to communities.

For example, many youth involved in the justice system have been exposed to high levels of toxic stress—resulting from extreme poverty, neglect, abuse, or witnessing violence—which can interrupt their normal brain development with long-term consequences for learning, behavior, and physical and mental health. The negative effects of these experiences often endure into adulthood. Conditions in detention centers and juvenile justice facilities, including violence and use of seclusion and restraint, can exacerbate existing mental health issues. The trauma brought on by these adverse childhood experiences necessitates that justice-involved youth in community settings be connected to high-quality, culturally competent health care and mental health interventions.

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Feb 26, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

New Report Shows Significance of Summer Youth Employment

By Kisha Bird and Clarence Okoh

For many young people, early work experience is a touchstone on the path to continuous gainful employment. A new JP Morgan Chase report, Expanding Economic Opportunity for Youth through Summer Jobs, highlights the benefits of strategic investments in summer employment for low-income young people and suggests strategies for connecting more youth to these opportunities, which help them build skills and earn credentials to improve long-term economic success.

Far too many youth are economically insecure. Children and young adults experience the highest levels of poverty in the United States (21.1 percent and 19.7 percent respectively). Among them, children and young adults of color are disproportionately affected. Young adults, particularly youth of color, also experience the highest levels of unemployment. Along with these disparities, summer employment has declined 37 percent for teens over the last twenty years. In 2015, just 34 percent of teens had access to these opportunities.

According to research, teens who work are 86 percent more likely to be employed in the next year and older youth are almost 100 percent more likely to be employed if they worked more than 40 weeks in the previous year. Summer employment can also contribute to reduced involvement in the juvenile and criminal justice system as well as improved school attendance and educational outcomes, especially for those at risk of dropping out.

The report identifies four key findings that could help us design sustainable, systemic solutions that expand economic opportunity through summer employment, including:

  • Boosting skills-building for youth through scaling up models that emphasize year-round employment and connections to career education training and work experiences and other technical training opportunities.
  • Expanding and strengthening private sector engagement.
  • Expanding and tailoring services to youth who experience unique barriers to employment including youth of color and opportunity youth.  
  • Improving coordination with local workforce systems.

There are many challenges to connecting youth to quality summer work experiences, including funding, having adequate systems and infrastructure, and business and industry engagement. However, as highlighted in the report, many communities are pioneering innovative solutions that help serve young people. Through leadership and sustained investment from elected officials, the private sector, policymakers at all levels of government, and—most importantly—youth themselves, we can realize this pathway to economic opportunity.

Apr 8, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

Celebrating Native American Youth: Leadership and Resiliency

By Andrew Mulinge

Recently, the Aspen Institute’s Center for Native American Youth held its fourth annual Champions for Change celebration. The event recognized the extraordinary work of resilient young men and women in Native American, Alaskan native, and Native Hawaiian communities across the country.

The young leaders’ inspiring work is a constructive response to the hardships and tragedies they have experienced. They discussed channeling their challenges and pain into innovative programs that address suicide, sexual abuse, cultural preservation, and mentorship for their peers. These programs are critically important; too often, communities perpetuate trauma instead of supporting those who experience it.

Chronic trauma and adversity are key public health issues with major implications for the wellbeing of youth—especially those in American Indian and Alaskan Native communities. Barriers to positive youth development  include violence, abuse, and neglect, as well as chronic stressors like unemployment, racism, lack of adequate health care, and social isolation. Chronic trauma and adversity in childhood can interrupt normal brain development; this has long-term consequences for learning, behavior, and physical and mental health.

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