Towards Resiliency for Vulnerable Youth: A United Way Report. United Way of Calgary and Area, April 2011.
The United Ways report: Towards Resiliency for Vulnerable Youth looks into problems that youth face as they make the transition from youth to adulthood.
The United way report identifies five areas where disadvantaged youth face barriers in life and made recommendations as to how they can address those specific barriers and more effectively serve the needs of Calgarys disadvantaged youth.
The report mentions that disadvantaged youth face barriers to education, employment, basic needs, social protection and social supports.
With regard to the educational barriers they face, disadvantaged youth generally feel disengaged in educational settings. While they understand the importance of education, they have difficulty staying connected to educational systems and processes.
Employment wise, education plays a large part in helping them gain and hold down steady employment. Many youth come from fractured and impoverished homes. Disadvantaged youth are highly transient, and face issues of home security and/or homelessness, child welfare and abuse. They often have to leave school to help support themselves and their families. However, they face limited employment opportunities without an education.
As a result, many vulnerable youth feel like they lack social protection. They feel isolated and therefore experience high incidences of stress and trauma. Youth often have a closely-knit peer group but have difficulty reaching out to the wider community.
Strong family support and or community support leads to more resilient youth. For disadvantaged youth who lack a crucial support system, the challenge of making a successful transition into adulthood is difficult. They lack the ability to successful integrate into communities.
If youth are presented with positive support systems and choices, they have a greater chance at breaking intergenerational poverty. There is also a greater possibility that they will adopt a healthy lifestyle, improve their personal wellbeing reintegrate into the community as a successful adult.
The United Way makes a number of recommendations to ensure positive success for disadvantaged youth.
Firstly, the United Way believes that in addition to its own efforts to assist disadvantaged youth, there needs to be a more comprehensive and coordinated effort by all levels of government dedicated to providing better services for disadvantaged youth. This may include anti poverty legislation at the provincial level, helping vulnerable youth access services provided by Alberta Child and Family Services and the creation of a youth secretariat within government to help the province more effectively address the needs of this population.
Secondly, vulnerable youth need help becoming more engaged with the educational systems they rely on. The provincial government can help vulnerable youth complete high school by increasing the age of completion from 19 to 24 and increasing the mandatory attendance age from 16 to 17.
Community schools also need to develop a plan to help students stay engaged in school so that they successfully complete high school.
The United Way plans to help by encouraging the provincial government to launch these types of initiatives. They also plan to establish programs to work with community members across all sectors (community organizations, the justice system, businesses, etc.) to develop successful stay-in-school policies and programs.
Thirdly, there needs to be an improvement in employment opportunities for this vulnerable group. In Alberta, youth unemployment is chronically high. The United Way is committed to working with Alberta Employment and Immigration to build upon the provinces Youth Employment Strategy. As well, the United Way has partnered with the City of Calgarys Employment Centre to provide skill training and personal development for pregnant women and new mothers.
Fourthly, the United Way recommends that the government improve access to meeting the basic needs of this group. This will insure that vulnerable youth move from a state of crisis to a state of stability. This can be achieved in a number of ways, such as providing discounts on municipal services such as public transit, while also providing vulnerable youth with greater access to affordable housing.
Fifthly, vulnerable youth need help accessing mental health supports. Many youth face barriers that prevent them from accessing mental health services. The United Way is committed to research to ensure that the provincial health system makes it easier to access those services and related programs.
Last but not least, vulnerable youth need access to a wide range of formal and informal networks and relationships in their communities. If youth lack a strong family support system, provisions must be in place to ensure that government provides vulnerable youth with the comprehensive support system they need.
Overall, the United Way has made great gains in ensuring that vulnerable youth have a successful transition into adulthood. Hopefully with continued support and these above recommendations, vulnerable youth will be able to transition from a place of uncertainty to a place of success with certainty.
Reviewed by Michelle Harkness