Disconnected Youth: Defining the Population and Exploring Solutions

Disconnected Youth: Defining the Population and Exploring Solutions
Disconnected Youth: Defining the Population and Exploring Solutions



Much attention has been given to the number of students who drop out of high school, yet significant numbers of these students eventually do earn a credential (NCES cites 63% of dropouts obtain a diploma or GED within eight years of their scheduled graduation date).  Our robust “second-chance” system plays a critical role in ensuring these students successfully engage in education and employment opportunities, but these programs often face significant policy challenges. This forum will describe the heterogeneity of the disconnected youth population, provide an overview of research-supported best practices, and include a panel of research and practitioner-experts to explore policy challenges and solutions.


Our panelists represent the following organizations:



MDRC is a nonprofit, nonpartisan education and social policy research organization dedicated to learning what works to improve programs and policies that affect the poor, and to ensuring that the evidence produced informs the design and implementation of policies and programs. The five main policy areas in which MDRC works include: Promoting Family Well-Being and Child Development; Improving Public Education; Promoting Successful Transitions to Adulthood; Supporting Low-Wage Workers and Communities; and Overcoming Barriers to Employment. Recently, MDRC published Building a Learning Agenda Around Disconnected Youth, found online at http://www.mdrc.org/publications/545/full.pdf.



Roca’s mission is to help disengaged and disenfranchised young people move out of violence and poverty. Roca, which serves very high-risk young people in Chelsea, Revere and East Boston, MA, is a performance-based and outcomes-driven organization that helps young people to change their behavior and shift the trajectories of their lives through a High-Risk Youth Intervention Model.


Phoenix Youth and Family Services

Phoenix Youth and Family Services is a social, economic, and community development organization whose primary mission is to create opportunities for rural and impoverished residents of Southeast Arkansas. Phoenix was established in 1995 as a private, nonprofit organization. The organization accomplishes its mission by:

  • Implementing programs that bring about long-term change for people and families;
  • Empowering people with knowledge and leadership skills; and
  • Connecting with public, private, and nonprofit organizations to find solutions, build capacity, and channel resources.







Molly Baldwin is the Founder and Executive Director of Roca, a community-based, youth development organization serving young people in Chelsea, Revere, East Boston, and launching a pilot program in Springfield, MA.  For over twenty-one years she has been a tireless advocate, mentor and community convener reaching out to the highest-risk young people from our area’s most dangerous urban communities, and bringing together all the major institutions and agencies that affect these young people’s lives. Her efforts have helped over 15,000 young people make profound and positive changes in their lives. The young people that Roca serves are the youth who have fall through the cracks of the very systems set up to protect them; these young people are: in gangs, on the streets and in and out of prison; some have dropped out of school or are close to it; they are young parents, some as young as 12 and others with several children; and many are immigrants, far from home, left with memories of unspeakable violence.

Roca is a performance-based and outcomes-driven organization that helps young people to change their behavior and shift the trajectories of their lives through a High-Risk Youth Intervention Model. Roca serves very high-risk young people in Chelsea, Revere and East Boston



Dan Bloom, Co-Director of MDRC’s Health and Barriers to Employment Policy Area, is currently directing the Joyce Foundation’s Transitional Jobs Reentry Demonstration, the evaluation of the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) program for ex-prisoners, and the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Evaluation. Earlier, he was part of the management team for the federally funded Employment Retention and Advancement project and directed three evaluations of state welfare reform waiver projects. Bloom was a member of the team that developed the Parents’ Fair Share Demonstration, a multisite test of programs that provided employment services to noncustodial parents with children on welfare. He also managed MDRC’s evaluation of Ohio’s statewide Learning, Earning, and Parenting program, an initiative aimed at promoting school attendance among teenage parents. Since joining MDRC in 1988, Bloom has written more than 30 research reports and a book summarizing lessons learned from studies of welfare-to-work programs. He has a master’s degree in public policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Bloom has previously worked for America Works, a for-profit company that operates job placement programs for welfare recipients, and for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington-based policy analysis group.



Toyce Newton is the President/Chief Executive Officer and founder of Phoenix Youth & Family Services, Inc.  In 1995, Newton established Phoenix to create economic, social, and community development opportunities in rural and impoverished counties in Southeast Arkansas.

Newton began her career with the Department of Human Services where she supported youths who were abused, neglected, or involved in the criminal justice system.  She later worked as Coordinator of Youth Services Programs at a community mental health center – administering a five county juvenile justice program in Southeast Arkansas.  In that position, she developed local and state policies on placement and services for status offenders and delinquents.  She has been on the cutting edge of juvenile justice advocacy for over twenty five years. Motivated by social responsibility, Newton has spent her career facing the challenge of creating a viable program to serve often forgotten youth in rural Arkansas.

Through the years, Newton has tackled tough social problems with effective and systematic solutions.  Newton is committed to bringing people together to create new programs and improve access to services.  She reaches past boundaries and works on a wide range of community initiatives that transcend geography, class, race, ideas, and values.  The result has been the formation of unconventional partnerships between individuals, agencies, and small and medium sized companies.   The effectiveness of these partnerships is evidenced by the success of the Phoenix Youth Opportunity Movement which was funded by the United States Department of Labor.  The agency recognized Phoenix Youth Opportunity Movement as one of the most innovative youth service delivery program in the country.

Newton is guided by a philosophy of service that is simple.  She believes that stakeholders should collaborate to capitalize on practical lessons as a means of maximizing resources.  She has been recognized as an expert in rural youth development and development.  In recent years, Phoenix has expanded its scope to not only include young people, but their families as well.  Newton has presented to the National Association of Workforce Boards, West Virginia Investment Board, and the NYEC New Leaders Academy regarding effective youth partnerships and programming in America – especially rural America.  Additionally, she has been remarkably successful in identifying, creating, and matching youth with career opportunities that were previously not viable.






All presenter powerpoints have been compiled into one file for ease of access.


The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF), a nonprofit, nonpartisan professional development organization based in Washington, DC, provides learning opportunities for policy leaders, practitioners, and researchers working on youth and education issues at the national, state, and local levels. AYPF events and publications are made possible by contributions from philanthropic foundations. For a complete list, click here.