In DC, more than 12,000 youth are disconnected. This means that they are no longer connected to the education system, nor can they find full-time employment. Their disconnection can be fueled by severe trauma, the need to care for family members, high transportation costs, becoming young parents, and the need to earn money, however they can, to afford basic necessities. Here in DC, taxpayers spend $167 million or, $13,900 per disconnected youth each year. These numbers don’t even account for what better educated and engaged young employees would add to our economy. The costs may be eye-opening, but the opportunities for savings and earnings should be a shocking call to action. As DC community members, we all have a stake in our young peoples' success.
But disconnected youth don’t see themselves as hopeless victims. And neither should we. DCAYA’s 2013 Connecting Youth to Opportunity report showed disconnected youth trying again and again to reconnect to education and employment opportunities. What the report found is that the system is simply not set up for youth to effectively reconnect. Youth typically have to make multiple attempts at various agencies or sites -- each with their own paperwork and processes, each in a different part of the city -- to achieve a bundle of services that fits their needs. This is time consuming and becomes expensive, as childcare and transportation costs factor into the process of reconnecting. Once youth are able to research their options and complete paperwork, they must still wait through an enrollment process, all to be matched with a program that may or may not actually meet their needs.
So how do we change the system that keeps letting youth fall through the cracks? We look to the examples of cities that are effectively reconnecting young people.
Philadelphia, Chicago, and Boston are leading the way in preventing disconnection, promoting reconnection, and facilitating successful entry into the workforce. Their success lies in a simple concept: Rather than expect youth to travel all around the city, stretching the limits of their time and budgets, then apply for programs that are already full, and then invest time in programs that do not fit their needs; provide youth with a practical, effective way to re-engage. Create a ‘one-stop-shop’ for reconnection.
These ‘one-stop-shops,’ or re-engagement centers, eliminate unnecessary obstacles for youth to further their education and find a job by centralizing the location of critical services. DCPS, DYRS, and CFSA all have re-engagement opportunities for youth, but simply cannot do what a centralized center can: connect youth to various options within a singular location. Our disconnected young people are craving success. Bringing these services together and guiding youth through the process of choosing the best programs to fit their needs allows youth to build their lives and in turn, build our community.
A re-engagement center is the first big step the city must take to successfully reconnect youth who have lost contact with education and employment opportunities. By bringing services together, youth may navigate a system that helps, rather than hinders, their path to a positive and productive adulthood. A re-engagement center is critical to making DC a sustainable community of engaged citizens.
Amy Dudas is the disconnected youth and workforce development policy analyst at DC Alliance of Youth Advocates. This FY'15 budget season, Amy will be advocating for the DC Council to launch a re-engagement center as well as broaden transportation subsidies for youth accessing SYEP and alternative education programs.
For more on youth issues in DC you can FOLLOW us on Twitter, LIKE us on Facebook, SUBSCRIBE to this blog and VISIT us at www.dc-aya.org.