What Is Youth Navigation?

Posted November 28, 2023
Two young Black men sit at a desk in front of a bright window, talking and reviewing documents.

Youth nav­i­ga­tion describes a range of ser­vices that equip young peo­ple with the resources and rela­tion­ships need­ed to real­ize their poten­tial. Absent these ser­vices, the very bureau­cra­cies, sys­tems and com­mu­ni­ty pro­grams that are geared toward help­ing young peo­ple can seem con­fus­ing and unwelcoming.

The Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, which focus­es on improv­ing the well-being and prospects of teenagers and young adults ages 14 to 24 through its Thrive by 25 effort, con­sid­ers effec­tive youth nav­i­ga­tion a crit­i­cal service.

Youth are urgent­ly seek­ing real avenues to sup­port, income and careers,” says Patrice Cromwell, vice pres­i­dent of the Foundation’s Cen­ter for Eco­nom­ic Oppor­tu­ni­ty. Fos­ter­ing deep­er stu­dent con­nec­tions to ser­vices and sup­port­ive adults and peers may make edu­ca­tion­al envi­ron­ments more sup­port­ive of and rel­e­vant to them in this com­pli­cat­ed moment.”

What Do Youth Nav­i­ga­tors Do?

Some­times called walk­ers and talk­ers,” pro­mo­toras,” peer ambas­sadors” or bud­dies,” youth nav­i­ga­tors help young peo­ple access edu­ca­tion­al, employ­ment and health ser­vices and pro­vide sup­port­ive spaces for youth to build self-effi­ca­cy. Research sug­gests this kind of guid­ance is more pow­er­ful when deliv­ered by some­one with sim­i­lar experiences.

A vari­ety of orga­ni­za­tions — schools, non­prof­its, gov­ern­ment agen­cies, etc. — pro­vide youth nav­i­ga­tion ser­vices. Some exam­ples of how Foun­da­tion grantees and part­ners have deployed youth nav­i­ga­tion ser­vices include:

Why Are Youth Nav­i­ga­tion Ser­vices Important?

Suc­cess­ful­ly nav­i­gat­ing the tran­si­tion from ado­les­cence to adult­hood can be chal­leng­ing — par­tic­u­lar­ly for young peo­ple of col­or, those in low-income fam­i­lies and youth with expe­ri­ence in the child wel­fare or juve­nile jus­tice sys­tems. Guid­ance coun­selors or job place­ment staff are often lim­it­ed in their capac­i­ty and reach. As a result, a young per­son may need to con­nect with mul­ti­ple orga­ni­za­tions to pur­sue sup­port — a process that can be stress­ful and time con­sum­ing. The ide­al youth nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem bridges mul­ti­ple orga­ni­za­tions and set­tings to help young peo­ple make informed deci­sions that fit their unique iden­ti­ties and cul­tur­al back­grounds and bet­ter posi­tion them for success.

Ele­ments of Qual­i­ty Youth Navigation

The Foun­da­tion used data from Casey grantees, the broad­er field of youth nav­i­ga­tion and focus groups with young peo­ple to iden­ti­fy four ele­ments of effec­tive youth navigation:

  • car­ing, con­sis­tent adults who have expe­ri­ence work­ing with youth and young adults;
  • assess­ment, guid­ance and coach­ing tools to bet­ter under­stand each young person’s needs and interests;
  • knowl­edge of the sys­tems and set­tings young peo­ple must nav­i­gate to build skills, rela­tion­ships and income; and
  • con­nec­tions to peer and social net­works to reduce bar­ri­ers to suc­cess and access basic needs.

What Do Young Peo­ple Need From Youth Navigation?

When asked what youth nav­i­ga­tion looked like in prac­tice, feed­back from young par­ents and young peo­ple with expe­ri­ence in the child wel­fare and juve­nile jus­tice sys­tems fit into three categories:

  • Meet­ing basic needs — sup­port for secur­ing safe places to live, obtain­ing legal iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, receiv­ing refer­rals for men­tal health ser­vices and access­ing transportation.
  • Devel­op­ing life skills — strate­gies to ful­fill respon­si­bil­i­ties asso­ci­at­ed with adult behav­ior, net­work­ing and mon­ey management.
  • Access­ing edu­ca­tion and employ­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties — devel­op­ing the skills need­ed — under­stand­ing how to write a resume or com­plete a col­lege appli­ca­tion — to pur­sue goals.

A cen­tral point of con­tact who active­ly reach­es out young peo­ple is also crit­i­cal, accord­ing to the par­tic­i­pants surveyed.

Resources for Cre­at­ing Eas­i­er to Nav­i­gate Systems

How phil­an­thropy help young adults strength­en their finan­cial well-being

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