How do we help more low-income and traditionally underserved youth and youth of color achieve great outcomes in life? By wrapping our collective arms around them to make sure they get the services, supports, and caring they need, when they need it, how they need it, and for as long as they need it, so they can develop into self-sufficient, competent, and engaged adults.
No two adolescents are the same, and they need attention and support at different times in their lives, on different facets of their development, and in varying intensities and length, based on their personal circumstances. But our response to them is most often to fashion a short-term program that deals with one single aspect of their life – maybe providing school lunch, maybe providing tutoring to improve test performance in math or English, or maybe offering an afterschool activity to help complete a college application. Those are all really helpful interventions, but they don’t address the long-term individual needs of the young person, they don’t focus on all aspects of youth development, and they don’t involve youth in charting their future course.
AYPF has always believed that young people need access to a wide range of high quality supports at every stage of their developmental process and that they need to be involved in making decisions about their future. Anyone who has raised or worked closely with youth knows how important it is to address youth voice and leadership, knowledge and skill development, spirituality, health and mental health, positive relationship building, self-determination, safety, service and meaning, and resilience. All of them, not just one or two of them. Providers of these supports start with families and caregivers and include schools, social and medical service providers, community- and faith-based organizations, private providers, employers, and postsecondary education institutions.
Unfortunately, however, more times than not, these providers work in isolation of each other, and as noted earlier and, only address one aspect of youth development for a limited time. And, on top of that, many youth are forced to navigate the complex tangle of services and programs frequently on their own. The time and effort spent in trying to understand and negotiate the myriad of programs often interferes with their schooling or work. Many youth often fall through the cracks and are lost in the shuffle from one system to the next, as no one system is held accountable for helping them. We need to simplify the process for young people to access the services and supports they need and ensure that they are connected to well-trained professionals or case managers who not only can help them navigate multiple systems but provide personal support, advice, and mentorship. We must find ways to provide what AYPF calls Comprehensive Connected Supports, one of our four policy pillars*.
We’ve come across some effective programs that do just that. The Promotor Pathway Program developed by the Latin American Youth Center, is a long-term client management intervention model for disconnected and disengaged youth facing multiple obstacles that prevent them from accessing resources and achieving educational, employment, and healthy living goals. This evidence-based model allows Promotores (case managers) to work on a one-on-one basis with each youth to remove barriers, proactively encourage participation in a broad set of services, and connect them to other needed resources within the community so they make a successful transition to adulthood. A randomized-controlled trial evaluation of the Promotor Pathway Program shows positive outcomes and is now being implemented in various sites across the country.
The Youth Villages YV LifeSet program is another comprehensive approach that works with former foster and transition-age youth to become successful, independent adults. It, too, has had a randomized controlled trial evaluation which shows positive outcomes, and it is being replicated in various communities across the country. YVLifeSet specialists meet with participants at least once a week wherever is most convenient for the young person. Specialists are available 24/7 to help former foster youth and other vulnerable youth ages 17-22 identify their goals and guide them each step of the way as they:
- Strive to finish high school or earn a GED
- Apply for college and scholarships and begin a college career
- Find suitable and stable housing
- Learn money management skills
- Find and maintain employment
- Apply for medical insurance and seek physical and mental health services
- Access community resources
- Build and maintain healthy relationships
- Learn about sexual health and well being, with a focus on pregnancy prevention
- Develop strong parenting skills
- Establish life-long connections with caring adults
While these are just two examples of programs that seek to address the whole development of the youth, we know there are others that have been effective. AYPF’s webpage on Foster/Juvenile Justice/Crossover Youth, work we’ve done to incorporate youth voice, and our publication Success at Every Step that outlines our thinking around comprehensive and connected services, are resources to help promote the idea of Comprehensive Connected Supports.
Please let us know about programs that provide comprehensive and connected supports, so we can add them to our resource list.