Juvenile Law Center

August 18, 2017

Navigating the Path to a Successful Career: New Juvenile Law Center Report Addresses Barriers for Youth in Foster Care and the Juvenile Justice System

posted by Karen U. Lindell, Staff Attorney

As summer comes to a close, many teens around the country are wrapping up one of the first steps in their “career pathway”: a summer job. These short-term positions are not just a pastime; research shows that summer employment reduces dropout rates, improves long-term employment prospects, and decreases the chance of future involvement in the criminal justice system.

But early work experiences and other forms of career exposure remain elusive for many youth, including youth in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Nationally, approximately 3 million youth are neither in school nor working. And while the overall labor market has improved, not all young people have benefitted. The unemployment rate for Black youth last summer was 20.6%, more than double the rate for White youth.     

These disparities have led to an increased focus on engaging “disconnected youth” (commonly defined as young people aged 16-24 who are neither working nor in school) and supporting them on the path to a stable career. Many teens and young adults in foster care or the juvenile justice system fall in this category and could benefit from a range of career pathways programs. Yet these youth often face unique barriers to access. For instance, system-involved youth may not have copies of their important documents, such as a social security card or state ID, which can cause them to miss application deadlines or get passed over for employment opportunities. 

In a new report funded by the Lenfest Foundation, Juvenile Law Center takes a focused look at the barriers to career pathways that system-involved youth encounter. Based on an in-depth needs assessment of the Philadelphia community, the report offers five strategies to improve access to career-focused programs and early work experiences for youth in the child welfare or juvenile justice system:

  • Improve Access to Vital Documents and Records
  • Offer Meaningful Opportunities for Career and Technical Education (CTE)
  • Better Connect System-Involved Youth to Disability Services, Including Job-Related Services
  • Expand Work Experiences for Youth in Institutional Placements
  • Reduce the Collateral Consequences of Juvenile and Criminal Records

Philadelphia stakeholders are already taking steps to put these strategies into action. Last April, a broad cross-section of stakeholders and advocates met to discuss the report’s findings and develop innovative strategies for reform. The ideas discussed ranged from creative practice changes, such as creating a centralized “safe deposit box” for youth to store their vital documents, to the development of tax incentives for employers and other policy-level reforms.

To help advocates around the country learn from these efforts, Juvenile Law Center is launching a blog series that spotlights several initiatives taking place in Philadelphia. The series will feature interviews with local stakeholders discussing the challenges and opportunities they have encountered, with the hope that their ideas and innovations can be replicated elsewhere.

Part One: The Vitality of Vital Records

Part Two: New Opportunities for Youth with Disabilities

Part Three: Providing Support For Trauma-Exposed Youth in the Juvenile Justice System

By sharing the lessons learned from these efforts – and the recommendations in our report – with a national audience, we hope that more youth in foster care or the justice system are able to find their path to a meaningful and productive career.

Tags:Access to Education|Ban the Box|Child Welfare and Foster Care|Community and School Reentry|Juvenile and Criminal Justice|Second Chances|Transitions to Adulthood (Foster Care)

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