This is part one of a three-part blog series about postsecondary and workforce opportunities for systems-involved youth. Click here for part two and three.
Remember these PSAs from way back when?!** Famous people telling us the value of staying in school or respecting our teachers. The shooting star and iconic catch phrase aimed to help you remember the core knowledge just gifted to you. While I admit I can’t remember what the celebrities were asking of me, I do remember these PSAs and am still struck by the catch phrase: “the more you know.”
The core concept of this catch phrase rings true to our work at AYPF, but even more so as we aim to educate and inform policymakers and policy influencers on building pathways to postsecondary education and the workforce for youth involved in foster care, the juvenile justice system, and crossover youth. AYPF believes the more you know, the better equipped you are to have a robust conversation about the policy opportunities to support these youth and, in turn, all young people.
The first step in learning more is gaining a broad overview of who these young people are and the barriers they face to success. So, to make that part easier and more accessible, AYPF recently launched a microsite entitled Understanding Foster, Juvenile Justice, and Crossover Youth. The microsite is the first element in a series of resources AYPF is working to develop and compile on the knowledge base of building and sustaining pathways for youth involved in foster care, the juvenile justice system, and crossover youth.
Who are these young people?
I must admit, the best way to understand the needs and challenges these young people face is to hear their stories. Thus, I encourage you to listen to our recent webinar featuring system-involved youth sharing their stories and discussing their current efforts to support others. The term ‘systems-involved’ describes the reality that these young people are involved with either the foster care or juvenile justice system, or both systems, as is the case for crossover youth.
However, as you can see through the facts on the microsite, these young people are or should be involved with a number of other systems, including education/special education at the secondary and/or postsecondary levels, health/mental health, housing, and employment and training systems. While systems-involvement can possess a negative connotation, it is important to understand the complexity of the lives of these young people who sit at the intersections of many systems.
Too often the responsibility falls to the young people themselves to build pathways to postsecondary education and the workforce that weaves together supports from multiple systems. Perhaps you can recall one of those dreaded trips to the DMV where you had to go to a certain floor or section to get a stamp on your form that allows you to go to the next stop to get a photo taken and then somewhere else for a signature and so on and so forth. Now consider if that experience mirrored your daily life where you had to go one place to secure stable housing, but they require you to have a job, which is difficult with a full course load of classes. The barriers and challenges faced by young people are multiple and complex, but not insurmountable with the proper supports.
Starting with the microsite, AYPF will continue to share stories and provide information on research-supported best practices and facilitate a dialogue on where are the opportunities for policy exist at the federal, state, and local level for supporting youth involved in foster care, the juvenile justice system, and crossover youth. The next two blogs in this series will describe elements of research-supported, innovative programs working across many systems to build pathways to postsecondary education and the workforce for justice-involved and foster care youth.
We invite you to explore the microsite and the rest of the blog series, as AYPF will continue to highlight programs and practices for supporting these youth. The more you know, the easier it will be for you to join us in this dialogue.
Jennifer Brown Lerner is Deputy Director at the American Youth Policy Forum
**If you don’t remember, then that just means I’m getting old 😀