Mentoring Stories: Damon & Shamond

During October, organizations all around the country celebrated the annual Disability Mentoring Day event. NCWD/Youth is fortunate to be able to engage in mentoring programming all year round through the Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program (RAMP) run by our host organization, the Institute for Educational Leadership. RAMP is based on several of NCWD/Youth’s foundational materials including the Guideposts for Success and Paving the Way to Work: A Guide to Career Focused Mentoring for Youth with Disabilities. The following is a story about the mentor-mentee experience with Damon (Mentor) and Shamond (Mentee) from RAMP Houston.

Damon and Shamond Smiling Together

How and why did you get involved with RAMP?

Damon: I found RAMP on a community website I have previously volunteered with Big Brothers Big Sisters and I wanted a new community service endeavor. I also wanted to work with an older youth population.

Shamond: I got involved in RAMP to learn about finding a job. I needed help with interview skills, job searching and how to dress.

What are your career goals or career interests?

Shamond: I am a student athlete. I love sports and fitness. I would like to be an athletic coach. My father is a welder and I’m thinking about that too.

What were you expecting from RAMP before becoming a mentee/mentor? Has RAMP met or exceeded your expectations?

Damon: I did not expect that I would be able to as involved as I have become. I get to help with the learning activities, field trips and academics. My mentee welcomes me to his sporting events and the school faculty is very inviting. My expectation was exceeded. I have a large role in Shamond’s life but I still have my distance and balance as needed.

Shamond: I expected that RAMP would answer all my questions about school and working. I like RAMP and the time we spend together.

What do you like most about the relationship?

Shamond: I like that we have fun and games! Even with being cool we still have to learn.

Damon: I like that you are receptive to my ideas and advice. I like that I can easily get in touch with you and that you invite me to your football games. You are very affectionate and we never have fights or major misunderstandings.

What is one of our most memorable moments together? Why?

Shamond: I liked when we went to Olive Garden last year. We laughed, played around, learned and ate good food. We took that happy picture that was put on Easter Seals website.

Damon: Other than Olive Garden, my most memorable moment was when I attended your first football game. You lit up when you saw me on the field. I was proud to be there for you and you were proud that I kept my promise and came.

What would say to someone to convince them to become a mentee/mentor for RAMP?

Damon: I would tell community volunteers how rewarding it is to be a mentor. You have flexibility in scheduling and the amount of effort you have to put in. I choose to go to the school every week and see Shamond outside of the school, if your schedule does not accommodate this, that’s ok too.

Shamond: I would tell a student that being in RAMP will teach life lessons. You will learn how to interview, get and keep a job.

How would you like our relationship to grow in the future?

Damon: Shamond and I have a very healthy relationship. We have a good time together and we have a mutual understanding. Going forward as he matures into a young adult, I would like to learn more about his likes, dislikes, and internal struggles that he does not verbalize.

Shamond: Stay cool with each other. Give me advice from time to time to keep me going on the right path.

What are some of the goals that have been set since being involved with RAMP to help you with your career path?

Shamond: Keep good grades and get ready for graduation. Keep my body healthy and study fitness.

What changes have you recognized in your mentee since the early stages of the relationship?

Damon: Shamond went from being a class nuissance to a respectable young man. In the beginning Shamond would be put out of every class I attended, and showed gross disrespect for others or authority. Now Shamond is a leader on his football with both character and grades. Shamond also knows compassion now and can see the misdeeds of others.

What is the most interesting thing about your mentee/mentor?

Damon: Shamond is a talented athlete. Shamond has a shoe fetish!  Shamond has a caring spirit and has learned patience and the rewards it brings.

Shamond: Damon makes me smile and laugh. He teaches and shows me what I need to do, and I get it done.

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Posted in Career Exploration, Career Preparation, Communicating with Youth, Disclosure, Guideposts for Success, Mentoring, Positive Peer Influence, Soft Skills, Transition, Youth Development, Youth Leadership | Comments Off

The School-to-Prison Pipeline for Children of Color with Disabilities: Diversifying the Fight

Do The Right Thing Movie Poster (From year marks the 25th Anniversary of Spike Lee’s iconic film, Do the Right Thing.  I recently watched it on cable for what seems like the hundredth time.  One of my favorite scenes is when the character Buggin’ Out (played by Giancarlo Esposito) is eating a slice in his neighborhood pizzeria, in his predominantly African-American Brooklyn community, and challenges the Italian owner Sal (played by Danny Aiello) with the question that would set the stage for the movie’s pivotal moment:

“Hey Sal, how come you don’t got no brothers on the wall here?” 

The question expresses Buggin’ Out’s resentment at not seeing photos of any black or brown people – “people” that looked like himself – on the Wall-Of-Fame in Sal’s shop that he regularly patronizes.  Tension builds, heated words are exchanged, drama ensues – end scene.

The films depiction of this incident speaks to our need to feel included; our desire to see ourselves reflected in and represented by those institutions that share space in our communities.  And, the animosity that can build when we don’t see anyone that looks like us – our identifying group – on that institution’s proverbial wall, or at the discussion table in the board room, or at the workplace, or in the classroom, etc.

Similarly, the issue of ethnicity came up at last month’s National Council on Disability / Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund’s meeting focusing on the School-to-Prison Pipeline for Children of Color with Disabilities.  In particular, the discussions centered on the overuse of the “10 Day Rule” discipline provision of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which permits schools to remove a student with a disability from school for up to 10 days – providing an all too convenient justification for getting rid of students with disabilities without an assessment (i.e., IEP team meeting, behavioral intervention plan, functional behavioral assessment) or any other service or support.  To put it another way, the 10 Day Rule constructively harms the very students the IDEA was intended to help.  Unsurprisingly, the Rule tends to disproportionately impact children of color.

Which is why the issue of ethnicity is so ironic in this instance because while Latinos make up one of the fastest growing populations in the country, and are disproportionately overrepresented in the juvenile justice system, there was apparently only one Latino person in attendance at the meeting.  And it was that lone Latino who made a point of posing the rhetorical question out loud to the group, in true “Do the Right-Thing”-esque fashion, “why are there no other Latinos in the room”?  Furthermore, young people – as in high school age youth – were another key group noticeably absent from the event as someone else quickly pointed out.  And while the temperature of the room remained congenial rather than accusatory (no garbage cans were thrown as in the movie) the passionate discourse that followed concerning the lack of Latinos and missing youth voice at this otherwise diverse meeting, was powerfully candid.  In other words, the conversation turned very real!

“Nothing About Us, Without Us” 

Diversity, or the lack of, is something we all like to think we are adequately sensitive to.  I know what it’s like to be in a professional setting and be the only African American in the room.  I recognize how important it is to have the active involvement of other people of color in the planning of strategies and policies that affect our lives.  Having worked in the adult and juvenile reentry worlds, I understand why it’s critical to have input from formerly incarcerated people when the subject is criminal justice policy reform.  I also get how absurd it would have been to not have people from the disability community well represented at this meeting.  Yet, in all my ‘sensitivity’ I failed to immediately recognize and address the elephant in the room – that, youth and Latinos were almost entirely absent, adding particular irony to any discussion about school discipline for children of color, let alone those youth with disabilities.

This is not an indictment of the efforts to assemble a diverse audience.  On the contrary, many of the guests – present company included – acknowledged that this meeting was one of the most racially diverse gatherings they had ever attended on the subject of disability.  But diversity is more than race, and diversity is not the same as inclusion.  And when it comes to inclusion, we are all complicit when we fail or even inadvertently neglect to recognize the voices that are missing from the conversation.  Part of our due diligence as practitioners fighting for juvenile justice reform and disability rights is to make sure that whenever we sit down to formulate policy recommendations, the following questions are always asked:  “who” else needs to be involved in the discussion; “why” are they not here; and “what” needs to be done to get and keep them involved.  There is no moral victory in merely being more diverse or inclusive than in years past.  Broader diversity and inclusion along a range of individual variables (i.e., types of disabilities, ethnic background, gender, age, etc.) is the necessary precursor to any meaningful progress for students with disabilities.  More importantly, the issues surrounding race, ethnicity and disability are often inseparable as the stigma and discrimination that correlate with any one of these designations is palpable by itself.  When you combine racial and disability discrimination together, the results are devastating for school children as multiple school suspensions reduce the chances of graduation from high school and increase their chances of incarceration.

Given the disproportionate number of youth with disabilities caught in the juvenile justice system, it is important to identify specific interventions that address their many needs for successful transition.  The National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth’s Making the Right Turn:  A Guide About Improving Transition Outcomes for Youth Involved in the Juvenile Corrections System highlights experiences, supports and services that all youth need, and distinguishes the particular needs of youth in the juvenile justice system.  IEL’s Right Turn Career-Focused Transition Initiative (Right Turn) is based on the Guide along with other IEL-created foundational materials, and is currently being implemented across the country in five communities.

Understanding, implementing and ensuring greater diversity and youth voice along the adult-youth partnership spectrum expresses the conviction of people with disabilities, and people of color, and people of different ethnicities, and formerly incarcerated people, etc., that they all have particular insight into what is best for them and are ultimately the agents of their own progress.  That said, it’s important to also realize that diversity and inclusion are ongoing journeys rather than finite destinations.  As leaders in the juvenile justice reform and disability rights movements attempting to curb the School to Prison Pipeline, we must always be mindful to ensure that our brothers (and sisters) “on the wall” are present and part of every conversation that affects them.

By Byron Kline, Project Manager for the Right Turn Career-Focused Transition Initiative at the Institute for Educational Leadership’s Center for Workforce Development

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Posted in Culture, Events, Guideposts for Success, Inclusion | Tagged , , | Comments Off

Start early, get wiser, and end up better!

The following is part one of a two part guest blog series written by brothers Chris and Clement Coulston from Wilmington, Delaware. Chris is a senior at Concord High School and Clement is a Teacher Education major at the University of Delaware.

Start early, get wiser, and end up better.

By Chris Coulston

It is critical that students understand what transition is and the best place to get this information can be by going to your state transition conference. I attended my first transition conference in 7th grade and I wish I started earlier because there is so much to learn, time needed to practice skills, and plan for my future.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) states transition planning must start no later than a person’s 16th birthday, but I think that students could be working on transition skills earlier if they knew what it was. Self-advocates, parents and teachers should go to their state transition conference every year.

Jonathan Mooney with Chris and Clement Coulston at the 2010 Delaware Transition Conference

Jonathan Mooney with Chris and Clement Coulston at the 2010 Delaware Transition Conference

Transition conferences are the best place to gather knowledge and information so I can have a better today AND tomorrow! I learned about self-advocacy, self-determination and grit by attending workshops lead by youth leaders like Everett Diebler, Jonathan Mooney and LeDerrick Horne. School was hard for all these leaders yet they developed self- determination skills to make it. Self-advocates need to listen to these stories and use them to create your own self- advocacy and transition plan. These stories are not taught in school.  

Transition conferences teach self-advocates, teachers and parents about the power of getting work experience before leaving high school.

Getting work experience is critical because you:

  • gain a bigger social network;
  • learn how to work with people;
  • develop soft skills, and;
  • observe a glimpse at other people’s careers.

Work experience looks good on your resume whether it’s volunteering or paid. Both types of work are good because it gets your name out there, plus people will see how hard you work.  It is also good because you learn other skills from the people you work with. I wouldn’t know how important job experience is before leaving high school if I didn’t attend transition conferences.  

In my opinion, the best place to get knowledge about transition and your future is going to your state transition conference. Resources, self-advocates who share stories on how to advocate in school, and presenters who tell you the importance of getting work experience before leaving high school are the highlight of every conference. The more I learn about transition the better off I am. Transition is really big but I don’t think people understand it.  Remember, the goal of education is getting a job which means freedom!

Self-Advocates, start going to your state transition conference when you are 12 years old so you can get hustling for a better life! Educators, parents, and administrators we need YOU to help engage self- advocates but not over-power us.

Related Resources:


Posted in Advocacy, Career Exploration, Communicating with Youth, Disability History, Education, Postsecondary Education, Soft Skills, Tools, Transition, Youth Leadership | Comments Off

Bouncing Back: “Fall”ing Into Workforce Development Again

September goes by in such a rush. Summer is over and everything begins again: school, conferences, and fall program activities. Maybe that is why September is Workforce Development Month; it feels like we are all going “back to work.” As September began, I must admit, I was feeling a little tired and sad—not ready to let the summer laze go and certainly not excited to jump back in to the whirl of workforce development yet again.

But then I watched my foster child, who has been through too much already for such a young person, march bravely off to the first day of kindergarten. I heard the plenary speaker at the Nevada Transition Conference talk about growing up with a learning disability and ADHD as the child of two parents with mental health needs. I listened to the youth panel at the National Association of Workforce Development Professionals (NAWDP) Youth Symposium share their educational, workplace, and personal successes in spite of homelessness, court-involvement, and teen pregnancy.

Slowly, a theme emerged: resilience and renewal! If these youth can keep coming back, tough day after tough day, work week after work week, school year after school year, how can we, the youth service professionals, teachers, transition specialists, parents, family members, and other caring adults, do any less? As my foster child said to me recently, “You always come back – I like that about you.”

The Nevada Transition Conference plenary speaker, Christian Moore, shared a story about his friend’s parent, who found him out in the streets late at night, fed him many meals, and made sure he got to school each day. Similarly, the youth panel talked about teachers who stayed late to show them the same math problem one more time, program staff who really listened to them, and family members who always encouraged them. When asked what advice they had for the youth service professionals in the room, a youth on the panel replied, “Don’t give up on us. You never know how much influence you have – just one thing you say or one thing you do can change a kid’s life.”

That response struck a chord with me and brought the whole month together. We youth service professionals can often feel so frustrated and exhausted that we just want to give up. How many times can we talk about continuing education, interviews, resumes, career exploration, soft skills, and work-based learning before it feels like a continuous sound loop in our heads? We start to wonder if anyone is listening – our colleagues, families, youth? But then it happens: you bump into a youth from your old college prep class who is now attending community college, you hear from the youth with a learning disability you tutored who has now graduated from a four-year university, a parent from your career-focused mentoring program says they can envision their child having a job someday, or your foster child says, “I love you.” You realize that you are making a difference and you can go on. Just like all the youth who come through your home, office, classroom, or program, you have that resilience and you can feel that renewal. Every day is a new day and every interaction is another chance for another change. How can we give up when they never do?

Resilience comes from past successes and future ones that are developing right now. It comes from having the real strategies and resources for youth in the foster care system, youth in the juvenile justice system, youth with learning disabilities, and youth with mental health needs. The resilience comes from having the knowledge, skills, and abilities to work with all youth and connect them to opportunities for that same success. That resilience comes from taking these resources and skills to make an intentional and individualized plan for youth that connects them to their developmental and career goals. Finally, that resilience comes from the understanding that the one resource you share, the one encouraging thing you say, or the extra few minutes you take could be just enough for someone to change their life!

Related Resources:

By Patricia D. Gill, Senior Program Associate, National Collaborative on Workforce & Disability for Youth at the Institute for Educational Leadership’s Center for Workforce Development

Posted in Communicating with Youth, Professional Development, Tools | Comments Off

Policies to Address Poverty in America

Last month, the Hamilton Project revealed its 14 policy proposals that, when enacted together, wouldsucceed in Addressing America’s Poverty Crisis. The proposals created fit into categories of early childhood education, supporting disadvantaged youth, building skills, and improving safety net and work support. While the proposals certainly covered a wide range of solutions to the issue of poverty, the summit was far more successful in revealing the need to change the conversation of policy reform in the language of the long-term and holistic benefits.

The three policies to promote early childhood development included expanding preschool access for disadvantaged youth, addressing the parenting divide, and reducing unintended pregnancies for low-income women. The roundtable conversation for this set of solutions emphasized a multi-faceted approach to early education. For instance, the panelists explained that preschool access alone cannot eliminate the opportunity gap. As revealed in the research commissioned by the Hamilton Project, the advantages gained by preschool alone are no longer present once a child reaches age ten. In response to this, the policies work collaboratively to ensure that parent engagement persists after preschool to help keep the opportunity gap closed. Reducing non-marital and unintended pregnancies also addresses a specific feature of poverty that champions for proactive rather than reactive reforms. In order to gain support for spending for these policies, it is imperative to speak in long term benefit. The larger and more societal benefits come into play when viewing the proposals’ in terms of our workforce population and skill level, our spending on incarcerated youth and adults, and level of civic engagement.

A comparative conversation emerged during the dialogue centered on supporting disadvantaged youth. Policies discussed included the creation of mentoring programs (like IEL’s Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program), expansion of summer employment, assistance with remediation (a component of IEL’s Right Turn Career-Focused Transition Initiative), and expansion of apprenticeship programs. However, by the end of the panel, participants agreed that each proposal’s success depended upon the enactment of every other proposal discussed. Summer employment for youth can only be successful as experiential learning if the employer also acts as a mentor to the student. Students can only enter into an apprenticeship program if they are career-ready upon graduation, which in many cases requires remediation. Much of this aligns with NCWD/Youth’s Guideposts for Success, the framework detailing what all youth need access to in order to have successful transitions to adulthood.

The format and content of the summit certainly enforced the notion that the silver bullet strategy for policy reform is unreasonable. But are the 14 policies recommended together enough to combat the crisis of poverty in America? Perhaps the greatest conclusion that emerged from Addressing America’s Poverty Crisis is the absolute need for organizations to work together and collaborate to tackle these types of issues. It is also essential to understand and accept the reverberating effects that policies have in creating long-term change. A small policy that affects parent involvement in young children can have substantial impacts in ten to fifteen years in areas such as prison population, the skill of our workforce, and the education of future generations. Social policies are interdependent upon one another and can only become effective once we start viewing them as such. So while the policies presented last week might not themselves solve the issue of poverty, they enforce a necessary concept that we can only address America’s poverty crisis if we first learn to address the lack of communication among policies, programs, and agencies.

By Brooke Troutman, Intern for the Institute for Educational Leadership, NCWD/Youth’s host organization

Related Resources:

Posted in Career Exploration, Career Preparation, Collaboration, Community Partnerships, Education, Foster Youth, Guideposts for Success, Innovative Strategies, Tools | Tagged , , | Comments Off

15 Years After Olmstead – Our Commitment to Community Living

The following is a crosspost from The White House Blog. The blog is written by Paulette Aniskoff, Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.

Fifteen years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that under the Americans with Disabilities Act, people with disabilities cannot be unnecessarily segregated and must receive services in the most integrated setting possible. That ruling, known as the Olmstead decision, sparked significant changes in how federal, state, and local agencies support people with disabilities and their families.

The approach our Administration put into place in 2009 to help those with disabilities is showing tremendous results, and improving the lives of individuals with disabilities. Fifteen years after the ruling, the Departments of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), Justice, and Health and Human Services (HHS) continue to work together to make the promise of Olmstead real.

For example at HHS, the Administration for Community Living (ACL) was established in April 2012, creating a single agency charged with developing policies and improving support for seniors and people with disabilities. ACL collaborates with entities across the Administration to promote the goals of the Americans with Disabilities Act: to assure equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities.

All indications are that we are heading in the right direction. We are working to address many of the most imposing barriers facing those who want to live on their own: finding affordable, accessible housing and improving access to quality support and services tailored to each person’s goals.

Thousands of individuals have moved from nursing homes and institutions into affordable, accessible homes in the community. Working together, HHS and HUD have increased the coordination between supportive services and access to housing, as well as the number of accessible homes integrated in the community that are available for persons with disabilities.

Stories of the success of this approach offer great hope. For example, Baltimore native James is a former trucker who found himself in a nursing home after his wife passed away, his diabetes worsened, and he experienced severe medical problems. Thanks to a clergyman who provided a computer, James began to do research. He found a new doctor and identified a federal housing program that helped him move to his own apartment. He reports recovering confidence in making decisions for himself and says that returning to the community was “100%” what he had hoped it to be.

Chrystal lived away from her children in a nursing home for two years, and transitioned back home with help from Medicaid.  As a mom, her favorite part of the day is meeting her children as they get off the school bus. She’s now taking college classes with the help of adaptive technology, and looks forward to a brighter future.

Thanks to the recent HHS rules on home and community-based settings, states will be better able to define the best places for persons with disabilities to receive services, based on the person’s preferences, quality of life and access to the broader community. This will reduce isolation and segregation as well as protecting individual rights. States will need to consider many things — Can people eat food they like, when they want to? Choose their roommates? Have guests visit when they want? Come and go from their home as they please?

Having appropriate housing and services and supports is critical, but it is not enough. The Olmstead decision requires that individuals receive services in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs — including employment. Recently, the Department of Justice entered into a ground-breaking agreement with the State of Rhode Island. This settlement vindicates the civil rights of individuals with disabilities who have been unnecessarily segregated in sheltered workshops and facility-based day programs. More than 3,000 people will now get the support they need to work in integrated workplaces. That is a big win.

The Olmstead decision, and the work we are doing across the Administration, reflect our nation’s commitment that all of our citizens have the right to live, work and play among their neighbors, in communities across our country, pursuing their American dream.

Posted in Culture, Disability History, Policy, Transition | Tagged , | Comments Off

“Same Struggle, Different Difference” – Opportunities for Togetherness

The following is a cross-post from (Work in Progress) the official blog of the U.S. Department of Labor. The blog is written by  Dylan Orr, chief of staff for the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy.

Each June, the LGBTQ+ community and allies commemorate Pride Month, promoting self-affirmation, dignity, visibility, inclusion and diversity within the community. In July, the disability community and allies commemorate the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, promoting the same principles in response to a similar history of exclusion and discrimination.

These periods of commemoration are clearly connected by a matter of days on the calendar, but as communities we don’t always make the connections around our common experiences and goals. I believe the disability and LGBTQ+ communities can find strength in working together. In fact, it is these commonalities and the opportunities they present that led me to serve as chief of staff in the Office of Disability Employment Policy.

Dylan Orr speaks at the Labor Department's Institute on HIV/AIDS and Employment.

From my earliest thoughts, I knew I was different. I knew because the outside world told me so. When my mom was pregnant with me she thought she was carrying a boy and chose the name Dallas. When I was born with the external indications that I was a girl, she instead named me Lily − as I like to joke, “the most effeminate name in the book.”

As I grew I didn’t feel like a girl or what that seemed to represent. I also thought there was something wrong with me. I felt shame about what I decided would be my little (or big) secret for the rest of my life. I was teased on the playground and questioned by adults as to “what I was,” and essentially told that I did not look or act the way I was “meant” to. And, I felt camaraderie with individuals with disabilities who, like me, were excluded or made fun of for how they looked or acted. So I stuck up for them and befriended them.

It would not be for many years that I would first hear the word transgender and eventually embrace that identity, and find love, community, support and pride. Along the way, I have come to recognize the multiple intersections within our communities – from being labeled by society as “other” or somehow different from what is “normal” mentally or physically, to negotiating disclosure, to facing barriers and disparities in critical areas of life like public accommodations, housing, education, employment, the legal system and medical care. These intersections have influenced me along my academic and professional path, and the disability community has become my community.

This week I was honored to participate in the Forum on LGBT and Disability Issues at the White House, and proud to share how ODEP is building bridges between the disability community and other marginalized populations.

One of the initiatives we are working on is called Add Us In, designed to identify and develop strategies to increase employment within the small businesses for individuals with disabilities, with an emphasis on ethnic minorities, the LGBTQ+ community, women and veterans. ODEP is also working to support the National HIV/AIDS Strategy by improving employment and economic opportunities for people living with HIV, a covered disability under the ADA, which disproportionately impacts the gay, transgender, African American and Latino communities.

Through my work, I am constantly reminded that, although much remains to be done, significant progress has occurred in just the last generation, for both the LGBTQ+ and the disability communities. Going forward, we must draw strength from each other’s lessons − and remind ourselves that when one person or group is marginalized or discriminated against, we all are.

I hope to one day live in a world that truly celebrates the wide variation of the human form, condition and experience. To get there, we all have a part to play. Change does not arise from pity, shame, exclusion or low expectations. It arises from empowerment, celebration of difference, and a willingness to take risks as individuals and communities − to take pride in who we are.


Posted in Collaboration, Community Partnerships, Culture, Disability History, Events, Guideposts for Success, Inclusion, Parents & Families, Pride Month, Self Advocacy | Tagged , | Comments Off

From Jails to Joblessness:  Why Juvenile Justice-Involved Youth Need More Than Just a Job  

It’s well established that today’s chronic levels of youth unemployment cost our economy billions in lost tax revenue, both on the federal and state level.  Added to this problem is the sad reality of unemployed youth growing up to become unemployed adults.  Similarly, the staggering economic and human toll associated with youth who end up in the juvenile justice system, in its detention centers, and other locked institutions, is well documented.  But while practical experience suggests that gainful employment plays a significant role in reducing recidivism, it’s important to acknowledge that simply placing a young person in a job is no cure-all for recidivism. Studies show that although transitioning youth that hold jobs may be less likely to engage in criminal activity, there is no direct causal relationship between finding employment and less recidivism.  Instead, research suggests it’s actually the change in a young person’s antisocial attitudes and beliefs associated with crime – rather than the paycheck – that accounts for their shift away from crime.  Or, to put it another way, employment is only helpful to the extent that one can keep a job.  A new job must be coupled with new behavior in order to help lower the risk of recidivism.  Therefore, it is the transformation in behavior that ultimately enables an individual to retain employment and reap the recidivism-lowering benefits that having a job can provide.  Unsurprisingly, this finding is consistent with studies that suggest older individuals – who are already on a trajectory away from crime in terms of behavior – typically benefit more from employment programs than less motivated individuals.

In the context of youth workforce development, it’s the decision to live a more pro-social lifestyle and engage in pro-social activities that is integral to the success of youth employment programming.  More specifically, the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL)’s research asserts that transitioning youth achieve better outcomes when they have access to five types of experiences, opportunities, and supports:  school-based preparatory experiences; career-preparation and work-based experiences; youth development and leadership opportunities; connecting activities (support and community services); and family involvement supports.

Right Turn Logo with tagline "Empowering Youth; Transforming Communities"In fall of 2013, this framework formed the basis of IEL’s collaboration with the U.S. Department of Labor for a national juvenile justice transition initiative, resulting in the selection of five organizations across the country to implement the Right Turn Career-Focused Transition Initiative (Right Turn).  Developed by IEL’s Center for Workforce Development (CWD) in consultation with experts in the field, Right Turn draws on years of research detailed in Making the Right Turn:  A Guide About Improving Transition Outcomes for Youth Involved in the Juvenile Corrections System on promising youth transition practices currently being implemented around the country.

While the overall Right Turn framework reflects IEL’s national focus on capacity-building in the workforce development system, the Initiative’s local reach is enhanced by each site’s unique organizational focus and service delivery model in each sites community.  What further distinguishes Right Turn from other youth transition programs is: 1) individualized, career-focused program activities based on three phase career development process of self-exploration, career exploration, career planning and management; 2) the Individualized Career Development Plan (ICDP) used to tailor services and resources; 3) disability awareness and other disability related issues; and, 4) the integration of youth voice as fundamental component of all youth programming, decision making and goal setting. Right Turn is also based on a number other IEL-created foundational materials, as well as IEL’s experience operating the youth career-focused mentoring model, Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program (RAMP).

Earlier this year, IEL staff visited each of the five Right Turn sites:  KentuckianaWorks, Louisville, KY; Peckham, Inc., Lansing, MI; Oasis Center, Nashville, TN; Playa Vista Jobs, Los Angeles, CA; and Goodwill Industries of Houston, Houston, TX.  While the specific processes for implementing the Right Turn framework vary from community to community, the fundamental program components – education and training, workforce development, case management, mentoring, restorative justice and community-wide violence reduction efforts – are well in place at each site as juvenile justice-involved youth begin to enroll in Right Turn and engage in an array of career development activities designed to improve workplace performance, retention and reduce recidivism.

In the coming months, local Right Turn staff will focus on coordinating local community-wide violence reduction efforts, developing restorative justice projects and integrating career-focused mentoring activities into their respective service delivery models, with the overarching objective of providing every Right Turn participant with meaningful work and training experiences ranging from job shadowing and apprenticeships to fulltime job placement.  Ultimately, we want youth workforce development and juvenile justice policymakers and practitioners to focus less on job placement as an outcome, and emphasize the importance of youth developing long-term career paths, complete with comprehensive, holistic systems of support that address individual youth needs and account for varying learning styles.

Upon completion of the initial Right Turn program cycle in 2016, IEL will be able to demonstrate that this comprehensive approach to youth workforce development effectively addresses the specific developmental needs of youth leaving correctional settings.  Through information sharing among Right Turn sites and with the juvenile justice community at large, IEL looks to ensure that best practices and lessons learned will not be limited to scattered communities, but will instead inform the entire field.  Our goal is for juvenile justice-involved youth, with or without disabilities, have access to the array of services and resources they need to succeed and thrive both in the workplace and in their personal lives.

By Byron Kline, Project Manager for the Right Turn Career-Focused Transition Initiative at the Institute for Educational Leadership’s Center for Workforce Development.

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