Five Keys to Boosting Employment for Youth With Justice System Involvement
A new report explores how to promote workforce development and job opportunities for youth with justice system involvement. Cross-Systems Collaborative Approaches to Promote Workforce Development for Youth With Justice Involvement looks at how local collaboratives sought to address the barriers to opportunity faced by youth with justice system involvement. Based on a joint project of the National Youth Employment Coalition and the Urban Institute, the report examines the efforts of five sites:
- Tulare County, California
- Denver, Colorado
- Hartford, Connecticut
- Louisville, Kentucky
- Manchester, New Hampshire
Drawing on public health models aimed at reducing risk and increasing opportunities for young people, each collaborative includes representatives from community organizations, nonprofit service providers, the justice system and business.
“A takeaway for agencies and their partners is to think about the opportunities they want for young people,”says Burgundi Allison, associate director for diversion and prevention at the Annie E. Casey Foundation which funded the report. “How can they push past traditional silos to achieve that level of access for all kids, including those with system involvement?”
Improving Workforce Development for Youth With Justice System Involvement
To generate the report, researchers sought input from both collaborative members and young program participants. These conversations revealed five themes that can help improve job market opportunities for youth with justice system involvement:
- Applying data to decision making. Each collaborative generates and uses data to inform its work and track outcomes for program participants. The Hartford collaborative created a specific working group to analyze data generated by local government agencies and nonprofit service providers. This data sharing and integration allowed the collaborative to identify gaps in programming and suggest areas for future improvement.
- Adopting a strong cross-system approach. Stakeholders who are engaged across systems, addressing challenges and offering solutions, ultimately drive more effective results. The collaborative in Tulare County created a shared case management process, which helped referred youth receive services in a timely manner. The number of referrals to the collaborative’s programs has increased, and fewer youth on probation report difficulties accessing needed services.
- Employing innovative engagement strategies. Reaching young adults with justice system involvement can be daunting. The Manchester collaborative used police department data to develop a peer networking strategy. The end goal? Encourage youth to seek needed services, including a community-based workforce program. This approach enables youth with justice system experience to hear from trusted peers, lending an air of credibility to the collaborative’s service providers.
- Structuring the Work. A collaborative’s operations hinge on many factors, including the regional needs of employers, funder interests and the local challenges faced by youth with justice system involvement. Experts recommend a formal method of accountability for collaborative members to ensure the accurate delivery of program services. This move can be as simple as developing a memorandum of understanding to detail goals and internal metrics.
- Establishing Shared Goals. Setting specific, measurable and attainable goals helps to keep collaboratives focused on their collective objectives. The goals set by each collaborative drive the partnership’s work, with some focusing on increased youth employment and others seeking to curb youth violence.
Addressing Young People’s Barriers to Opportunity
While each site has its own approach to addressing barriers facing youth with justice system involvement, their partnerships have key features in common, including:
- a defined set of outcome measures;
- the support of public systems;
- community involvement;
- plans for sustained efforts; and
- a collaborative decision-making approach that engages youth leaders.
Another shared characteristic among the five sites is the importance of jointly determining goals with the community and the youth served. The Tulare County collaborative, for example, incorporates youth voices in its work by mandating that many of its decisions first be considered by the its youth committee before receiving final approval.
“To create pathways of opportunity for youth affected by the juvenile justice system, we must address the very real obstacles that exist when they enter the workforce — arrest histories compounded by limited access to educational and workforce development opportunities,” Allison says.