Youth of Color

Youth in high poverty communities face significant obstacles.  Our work explores the depth of the disadvantaged youth problem in some of the nation's most challenged communities, with particular emphasis on youth of color. We highlight data on youth risk and outcomes in poor communities, elevate sound policy changes to benefit this population, and help communities to take advantage of opportunities at the federal and state level to expand and coordinate services.

Keeping youth on track and broadening their future opportunities requires flexible federal and state policies, adequate funding to meet immense need, and a community-wide approach to implementation that is attentive to the varied needs of a heterogeneous population. Young males of color, in particular, need targeted supports that are both robust and culturally relevant. Establishing a common goal for all youth and coordinating resources and systems to support all aspects of their development will put more young people on a path to solid education, meaningful careers, and eventual self-sufficiency.  Being intentional about strategies to successfully reach and serve youth of color ensures that the system meets the needs of all youth in the community equitably.

Oct 13, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

Realizing Youth Justice: Recent Legislative Updates

By Clarence Okoh and Andrea Amaechi

On September 30, President Obama declared October to be National Youth Justice Awareness Month. While much national attention has rightfully centered on the challenges young people face once they are engaged with the justice system, a more robust vision for youth justice should consider policy changes that dismantle systems holding young people back from opportunity and, instead, build systems that empower them  to realize their potential. Recently, there have been some positive movements to create better opportunities for youth, and the foundation has been laid for more robust investments in youth during the next Congress.

On September 22 the House passed the Supporting Youth Opportunity and Preventing Delinquency Act, which reauthorizes and reforms the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA).  The bill preserves important provisions and updates the law in several ways. It maintains the JJDPA’s Title II formula grants, which fund programs in states that emphasize education and rehabilitation. Notably, the bill also requires state plans to include provisions that identify alternatives to detention, provide screening for human trafficking victims, and accommodate pregnant girls. Moreover, the bill phases out a policy allowing juveniles to be detained for status offenses, such as truancy or running away from home, which would not be crimes if committed by an adult. The JJDPA is halfway there to reauthorization. It is now time for the Senate to follow suit.

We need not only reforms in the juvenile and criminal justice systems, but also significant investment in the very supports that will ensure youth have the opportunity to successfully stay in, or re-enter, the community: pathways to education and employment. On September 22, Ranking Member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee Bobby Scott introduced the Opening Doors Act and hosted a panel discussion featuring policymakers, advocates, and young people to discuss the challenges facing disconnected youth and the opportunities and investments needed to better support their future. The goal of the Opening Doors Act is to reduce youth disconnection through significant federal investments in employment, education, and training.  With nearly 5.25 million young people ages 16-24 who are both out of school and out of work, the need for an expanded federal role in supporting vulnerable young people and their communities is quite evident.

The legislation calls for $5.5 billion total in new funding—$1.5 billion for subsidized summer jobs, $2 billion for partially subsidized year-round jobs, and $2 billion for competitive grants to communities.  Both strategies offer promise in serving vulnerable young people. Subsidized employment strategies, such as summer youth employment, work well in serving populations with marginal attachments to the labor force, including poor and low-income young people. Summer employment assists in establishing critical early work experience and developing marketable skills setting young people on a trajectory for continued education and future employment.  Congressman Scott’s legislation would provide a stronger foundation for communities to leverage new funding to create and expand programs to better serve the employment needs of young people. This is a very important step in the right direction.  The next Congress should use the bill as a marker for future investments and a down payment towards full employment for low-income youth and young adults and reconnecting the millions of young people who are currently being left behind.  

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