Wednesday, March 26, 2014

What It Takes to Connect Youth to Opportunities

Below is an excerpt from the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates Disconnected Youth One-Pager. Throughout the month of April, DCAYA will post blogs examining the effects of disconnection and proven methods to reconnect youth to workforce and educational opportunities. You can download a printable version of the one-pager to share with others here


Despite recent attempts to dramatically improve public education, “roughly three out of ten American high school students do not graduate in four years.”[i] Of those who do graduate, one-third are unprepared for college-level academics.[ii] Moreover, “recent evidence suggests that students who eventually drop out of school “are doing so in earlier grades and at lower skill levels – some even too low to be able to take the GED.”[iii] 

Several factors contribute to youth getting off track before achieving a high school diploma. A history of poor academic performance, chronic truancy, negative school “push-out” policies regarding suspension and expulsion, pressing responsibilities at home, and/or the need to earn an income, are all causes of disconnection. 

In 2010, the city already claimed more than 4,500 TANF recipients between the ages of 18 and 25 and that number is likely to be much higher today.[ix] If we do not address the needs of these young people now, we condemn them to a lifetime of hardship and instability and a reliance on government benefits.

This issue is at a crisis level in DC. Young people who lack educational credentials and work experience are less likely to become self-sufficient adults, and in many cases these young people already have children of their own, exacerbating the intergenerational cycle of poverty.

  • In 2012-2013 only 64% of the city’s young people graduated high school within four years[iv] and college completion rates remained well below the national average.[v]
  • District youth struggled to find entry-level employment opportunities which serve as important foundations for lifelong success. Only 25% of 16–19 year olds and 68% of 20–24 year olds were currently working or actively seeking work in 2012.[vi]
  • Over 14,000 young people in the District (ages of 16 - 24) were able to be categorized as “disconnected youth”-meaning they were neither enrolled in school nor were they employed.[vii]
  • In a 2013 DCAYA survey, 60% of disconnected youth were trying to re-engage in school or had in the past, suggesting that they will make many attempts to get back on track. [viii]

  • Follow the example of cities like Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago by consolidating access to information and services for disconnected youth at a re-engagement center in the District. In providing a “one-stop-shop,” disconnected youth gain access to well-trained staff that provides the latest information on educational programming options and workforce development training. At the same point of entry, disconnected youth can also be guided to the long-term, wrap-around services necessary to sustain reconnection including housing supports, childcare, and income or food assistance. 
  • Expand the capacity of non-traditional, alternative education and workforce development programs. Considering that the compounded factors that lead a youth to disconnect are likely to re-emerge in a traditional school or work environment, it’s critical to offer programming that prioritizes the incorporation of real-world context and a pathway towards long-term success. By continuing to undertake research efforts to ascertain where to build capacity within existing programs, while also soliciting the opinions of youth to determine their needs, policymakers will continue to “scale-up” successful programming within the system of reconnection. 
  • Improve data sharing between systems that young people disconnect from and programs currently serving disconnected youth. As the current system exists, youth might plug into programs in their efforts to reconnect, but very little of the information gathered on services and outcomes is shared system-wide. This leaves an information gap on “who” these youth are, what subpopulations are most high-risk for disconnection, and what programmatic approaches should be implemented system-wide as best practices. 
  • Support efforts that focus on long-term engagement and success. In order to sustain youth re-engagement, it’s important to support efforts that give youth the opportunity to “bridge” from one level of service to the next in their pursuit of long-term success. In connecting organizations and service providers to each other’s work, a comprehensive system of re-engagement emerges, and a clear path forward insulates youth from further disconnection. 
  • Establish formal mechanisms to solicit the opinions of youth. In addition to a commitment to collect outcomes data, the opinions of youth must be solicited to effectively tailor programming to their dynamic needs. The input of youth will inform program improvement, solidify best practices, and demonstrate how to replicate efforts across the system of re-engagement. 
  • Create a comprehensive system of disconnected youth service provision. A sustained and successful re-engagement effort hinges on communication and adaptability between the many programs, agencies, and organizations that serve disconnected youth. By agreeing to comparable indicators of success, establishing a network of referrals and shared resources, and sharing data about the dynamic population they serve, these entities will hone their understanding and ability to meet disconnected youth where they are.

[i] Youth Transitions Funders Group, Closing the Graduation Gap: A Superintendent’s Guide for Planning Multiple Pathways to Graduation.
[ii] Bridgeland, J., DiIulio, J., & Morison, K. (2006). The Silent Epidemic: Perspectives of High School Dropouts. Washington, DC: Civic Enterprises, LLC,
[iii] Youth Transitions Funders Group, Ibid; Unfulfilled Promise: The Dimensions and Characteristics of Philadelphia’s Dropout Crisis, 2000-2005. Philadelphia, PA: Philadelphia Youth Network, The Johns Hopkins University, University of Pennsylvania,; Planty, M., Provasnik, S., & Daniel, B. (2007). High School Coursetaking: Findings from the Condition of Education 2007. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics,
[iv] Office of the State Superintendent for Education. “Official Graduation Rates SY 2012-2013 “”
[v] TAG Data
[vi] Raise DC Analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011 Local Area Unemployment Statistics, Accessed 04/20/13 at
[vii] American Community Survey, 2009
[viii] DCAYA, 2013. Connecting Youth to Opportunity. Retrieved from DCAYA website:
[ix] DC Deptartment of Human Services, Income Maintenance Administration, Automated Client Eligibility Determination System, TAN,F Recipient Adults by Sex and Age - FY 2011 

DC Alliance of Youth Advocates released a report in the Fall of 2013, "Connecting Youth to Opportunity." Youth focus groups and surveys were conducted to ask young people about the challenges they face leading to disconnection and the barriers preventing them from reconnecting. The full report can be found on the DCAYA website.

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