adulthood, Child Trends Research, Clinical Social Work, income inequality, Inequality, low socio-economic status, Macro factors, Mezzo factors, Micro factors, Person-in-environment, Poverty, social work theories, socio-emotional domains, theory, United States, Youth, Youth Disconnection
According to a report by Measure of America (2012), titled “Youth Disconnection in New York City”, there are “350,000 young people ages 16-24 in the New York metro area who are neither working nor in school.” (p.2) Although young adulthood is seen as a time of identity formation through the exploration of new roles in the academic, occupational, and socio-emotional domains, for many disadvantaged young adults, it is a stressful developmental period, in which the time to explore is scarce due to the lack of material and non-material resources. Disadvantaged youth are pressured to prematurely commit to social roles because of their life circumstances, and not their choice. Yet, a considerable number of young adults go through disconnection from family and society, which results in long-term consequences such as inter-generational poverty, incarceration, and the high costs associated with public assistance.
The “Child Trends Research” (2009), highlights macro, mezzo, and micro factors that put young adults at risk for being disconnected from family and society. For instance, mezzo factors such as foster care, juvenile justice, and special education involvement put young adults at greater risk for disconnection. In other words, “among the challenges these vulnerable young people face are limited skills; a lack of family support; learning disabilities; health, emotional, and behavioral problems.” (p.2) It is eye-opening to note how the authors consider the involvement with foster care, juvenile justice, and special education as risk factors for youth disconnection. Given that social, emotional, and academic limitations put youth at a higher risk for disconnection and that residual and institutional services are designed to mitigate risks; it becomes questionable to what extent such institutions are helping or hindering disadvantaged youth’s development and consequently keeping the status quo. Other risk factors mentioned in the report are household income, level of parental education, single-parent and stepparent family structures, and minority status. At the micro level, poor grades, poor health, and negative peer influence raise the risk of disconnection during adulthood transition. At the macro level, poverty is considered to have a major impact on youth disconnection. Therefore, it is observable how micro, mezzo, and macro factors are interdependent, which results in an endless cycle of poverty and inequality if proper social policies are not supported by the government.
It is also valuable to point out how life circumstances can influence on adulthood transitions, making it either an exciting time for the exploration of opportunities, or a stressful period in which youth cannot effectively explore their opportunities, because there are none. According to Hutchison (2015), there is a significant difference between individuals who follow a default individualization process, in which adulthood transitions are defined by life circumstances and situations rather than the individual’s choices; and developmental individualization, in which young adults have the privilege to deliberately choose intellectual, occupational, and psychological opportunities of growth (p.280). In other words, it is noticeable how macro factors such as poverty, racial oppression, and poor social policies produce cumulative disadvantage, failing to mitigate social inequality and resulting in family intergenerational poverty and internalized oppression. Therefore, one can also infer that individuals who go through the process of default individualization during adulthood transitions are at higher risk for disconnection since they can be either forced into a premature occupational commitment or have no positive perspective for their future.
According to the “Child Trends Research” (2009), there are several programs geared to help at-risk youth avoid disconnection and reconnect to society and family. Nonetheless, the authors highlight that measures to prevent disconnection have proven much more effective than those that aim at reconnecting youth. Research indicated that the fact that young adults participated in a program was not in itself linked to reconnection. “Once youth are disconnected, however, recruitment, enrollment, and retention of these young people into programs may require stronger and more persistent outreach, more intensive services, and more long-term participation.” (Child Trends Research, p.6). The research’s authors pointed out that the lack of appropriate services that address the specific needs of this high-risk population was one of the main reasons for failure to reconnect. Therefore, preventive measures such as school-to-work programs help students link academic content and real-life experience, which results in the development of work ethics, habits, and attitudes necessary for the labor force. Other interesting programs that prevent youth disconnection are apprenticeships and trainings. That is, in conjunction with the school, those programs offer not only career guidance, but also emotional support, which leads to improved academic outcomes and self-sufficiency in students (p.6). Another interesting example is brought by Hutchison (2015), who emphasizes the importance of service-learning programs for high-risk populations, as those promote the development of young adults’ skills and social capital. For instance, programs such as the AmeriCorps are known for promoting connection to civic society, critical thinking expansion, and a sense of purpose and meaning in life (p.302). In addition, I strongly believe that linking post-secondary schools’ programs such as certificate and associates degrees with job placements would make a significant difference in preventing youth disconnection.
To conclude, although young adulthood is an exciting learning time, for the disadvantaged youth it can be stressful as they might not have the time and resources to explore learning opportunities. Macro and mezzo level factors such as better social policies, and programs that specifically target the needs of this high-risk population are necessary to provide a buffer against the risk factors associated with youth disconnection.
Child Trends (2009). Youth who are “disconnected” and those who then reconnect: Assessing the influence of family, programs, peers and communities.
Hutchison, E.D. (2015). Dimensions of Human Behavior: 5th Edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
Youth Disconnection in New York City (Rep.). (2012, September). Retrieved June 22, 2017, from Measure of America website: http://ssrc-static.s3.amazonaws.com/moa/One_in_Seven_NYC-FINAL2.pdf