I often say that providers are experiencing and responding to changes in our environment before funders, legislators, or researchers are even able to put a label on it. Providers typically spend less time labeling these trends impacting youth and more time digging into understanding them and trolling through their resources to figure out how to strengthen outcomes for youth while facing these new realities. In fact, by the time labels come around providers are often in the process of refining their responses vs. developing them.
At MANY, we seek to build the resiliency of providers and thus their ability to strengthen outcomes for youth in real-time. We do this by engaging the field to identify, innovate, evaluate, and educate.
Earlier this month, 71 organizations from 32 states took the time to collaboratively identify current environmental trends, their implications for youth and providers, and practical actions we can take in response to – or better yet in anticipation of – these trends.
MANY distilled these conversations down to six overarching trends impacting youth that transcended individual programs, geographic locations, or sectors in the youth service field.
1. Trauma/Mental Health/Neglect – Youth are Falling Through the Cracks
Drugs, particularly those with stronger side effects (i.e. Heroine, Meth, Spice, K2 ) are becoming increasingly difficult to keep up with and respond to. Providers are seeing an increase in trauma experiences and fewer resources to draw on from Mental Health and/or Child Welfare systems. We heard multiple reports of young adults with emerging psychosis unable to qualify for adult Mental Health intervention and youth, as young as the age of 12 in some states being denied the protection they need from neglect due to state budget cuts. This is coupled with youth who have greater needs being required to jump through more and more hoops to access services and often falling through the cracks until another crisis occurs.
2. Affordable Housing
Low vacancy for affordable housing continues to be a struggle. Low wages combined with low inventory of affordable housing continues to be a struggle in most communities. The experiences of young adults are further exacerbated by a lack of credit history and/or access to qualified co-signors. There seems to be a growing interest (amongst the provider community) in identifying innovative alternatives such as host homes, alternative living arrangements, tiny homes, etc.
3. Cultural Diversity
For many providers, cultural awareness is becoming increasingly important and difficult to keep up with. This includes understanding how culture can conflict with youth accessing services and also approaches to services provisions. Access to language services is also a new challenge, particularly in communities where ethnic diversity has historically been low.
4. Widening Opportunity Gap
Youth and young adult unemployment is more than double the national rate. There is a clear need to rethink how to connect these millennials to the economy. This continues to be one of the top challenges that providers are attempting to address in local communities. Transportation, child care, housing, and navigation support are all barriers that have been, and continue to be, a major challenge. Emerging on this list of challenges is how youth/young adult employment is impacted by their family. A young person’s decision around education and/or employment is often closely tied to their family’s stability, putting them in a position to decide between school, work, or sibling care. Furthermore, youth employment can negatively impact the benefits a family receives.
5. A Workforce at its Breaking Point
Wage demands are increasing at the same time funding sources remain level or have been reduced; Recruiting/hiring staff, especially diverse staff, remains a challenge; Expectations of front line staff are growing; Amount of basic training needed/expected for direct care staff is growing; The amount of trauma staff are exposed to is increasing; and Staff turnover is complicated by a growing workforce with shorter longevity at any given employer. In a time where recruitment is difficult, turnover is high, training demands continue to grow and wage demands are increasing at an exponentially faster clip than funding sources, it is clear that a breaking point is near. Yet, providers’ ability to develop and retain talent has a high impact on their ability to meet the needs of those they serve and address pressing community issues.
6. Public Perception
The public’s awareness of youth who are at highest risk for victimization and/or delinquency is limited. Compound this with the increased trend of “otherizing” these youth and the burden to solve pressing community issues is suddenly disproportionately placed on the shoulders of local social service providers. In his blog, I’m a duck, you’re a duck, we are all ducks, Vu Le sums this up well, “Considering the challenges we are facing as a community, it is more critical than ever that we get people to understand how the well-being of people who look completely different, or who are geographically far away, or who speak other languages, affect their own well- being.”
Which of these 6 trends impacting youth resonate with your experiences locally or regionally? Which are most critical to address first or could have the most catalytic effect? Are there other trends that made your Top 6 list that we didn’t hit?
Stay tuned for the full report where we talk about the implication of these trends for providers.