GENESEE COUNTY – A growing population of youth ages 16 to 24 who are not in school or working are a drain on local economic recovery and vitality, according to a report issued Thursday by the Out-of-School Youth Initiative Workgroup.
Supported by the C.S. Mott Foundation, the Workgroup is a collaboration of people from more than 20 disciplines who have been meeting for two years to study the problem and generate solutions.
A media briefing Thursday announced the launch of a website at www.hiddencrisis.org and released findings of the report “The Hidden Crisis: Improving the Life Chances of Genesee County’s Most Vulnerable Youth.’’
The focus is on 16 to 24 year olds because they are “somewhat of a forgotten generation,’’ said Mike Kiefer, project coordinator for the initiative convened by the Community Foundation of Flint.
“There are an abundance of worthwhile programs for early childhood but once they reach 16 to 24, they kind of fall off the radar screen,” Kiefer said.
The report identified nearly 7,500 youth in Genesee County, about 14 percent of their age group, who fall into this category. Kiefer said that count might be low because some have given up and are harder to track via agency intake or
U.S. Census data.
“It’s not just a Flint or
Genesee County problem, it is a statewide problem,’’
Kiefer said. “It’s not a black issue or a white issue, it is an everybody issue.’’
The Workgroup is publicizing its findings to raise community awareness and to solicit others to get involved in developing strategies to help reconnect targeted youth to opportunities to earn a high school diploma, pursue secondary education, get a job and become assets to the community.
The Workgroup already comprises a broad range of disciplines including educators, faith-based groups, health and social workers and members of the judicial and law enforcement system.
Bill Haley, superintendent of Carman-Ainsworth Schools, a member of the group, authored a narrative in the report about community responsibilities.
He wrote: “I am convinced that Genesee County’ s path to viability must include intentional efforts to help these young people reconnect. We must move past the notion that these young people “made choices and choices have consequences. A community of purpose does not focus on whether children failed or the people entrusted to lead the children failed.”
Kiefer noted that studies show a correlation between this population and violence. He also said they drain community resources and are a detriment to attracting new industries to the area.
The full report is published on the new website which also provides information about community resources and a speaker’s bureau.
Ten action steps adopted by the Workgroup include:
Make disconnected youth a priority in Genesee County and mobilize the support of key stakeholders.
Loosen regulations for sharing data so that schools and youth-serving agencies can identify and respond quickly to the needs of disconnected youth and those at risk.
Advocate policies and practices that aid school completion and employment outcomes.
View disconnected youth as assets to our community.
Design and implement an age- and culturally appropriate multimedia campaign to provide disconnected youth with up-to-date information about available resources and ways to access them.
Energize the business community in becoming part of the solution.
Address obstacles to employment.
Provide additional resources to schools and programs serving the hardest-to-serve students.
Create an online clearing house and resource center.
Provide focused assistance to youth aging out of foster care.