Vulnerable Populations Transitioning to Adulthood: Examining Pathways to Adverse Outcomes

Saturday, January 17, 2015: 8:00 AM-9:45 AM
Balconies J, Fourth Floor (New Orleans Marriott)
Cluster: Mental Health
Symposium Organizer:
Sarah Narendorf, PhD, University of Houston
Purpose: Adolescents served in systems of care such as juvenile justice, child welfare, and mental health are particularly vulnerable during the transition into adulthood as they exit juvenile systems and lose key supports (Osgood, 2005).  Negative outcomes for these populations are well documented and include low educational attainment, dependence on public welfare and high rates of mental disorders and arrest (Clark & Unruh, 2009; Courtney et al, 2011). While we know outcomes for young adults served in systems are bleak, we know little about the mechanisms that contribute to these negative outcomes.  There is an urgent need to understand howthese adverse outcomes evolve during the transition to adulthood to identify points of intervention.  This symposium presents three studies that examine populations of young adults with multiple, overlapping vulnerabilities to understand factors during the transition to adulthood that may contribute to negative young adult outcomes.

Methods and Results: The symposium combines quantitative and qualitative research examining young adult outcomes with an eye toward the impact of prior experiences.  The first paper, “Pathways to Adult Criminal Activities among Dual-System Youth,” examines outcomes for youth aging out of foster care with a history of juvenile justice involvement using data from the Midwest Study.  It examines the impact of juvenile justice involvement on later adult criminal activities, concluding that juvenile justice involvement impacts adult criminal behavior through educational and employment outcomes. 

The second paper, “Psychiatric Emergency Service Use among Young Adults,” uses a mixed methods approach to examine the histories of young adults who presented in a psychiatric emergency room and the pathways that led to emergency care.  Through qualitative analysis of narratives, the development of symptoms and use of services is described and subgroups with different patterns identified.  These narratives reveal histories of involvement in multiple systems including juvenile justice, special education, child welfare and mental health.   

The third paper, “Illness Narratives among Vulnerable Young Adults with Mental Illness," examines another critical piece in understanding the functioning of young adults with mental disorders – their perceptions and understanding of their problems.  It uses qualitative data from 59 young adults with prior involvement in juvenile public systems.  Both thematic and narrative analyses are used to understand how youth make sense of their symptoms and the role of treatment in controlling these symptoms.  It finds that the level of illness understanding helps to explain how and why young adults engage into services.

Conclusions: Across all papers, the impact of experiences in adolescence on young adult outcomes is clear. Public systems have the potential to prepare vulnerable youths for the transition to adulthood and connect them to needed services in young adulthood, but there appear to be missed opportunities. These papers suggest that systems can better prepare young people for adulthood by ensuring that they enter the transition with sufficient human capital, an adequate understanding of mental illness, and connection to appropriate mental health services. Such interventions can yield improved outcomes in young adulthood that set these vulnerable youth on more positive life course trajectories.

* noted as presenting author
Pathways to Adult Criminal Activities Among Dual-System Youth
JoAnn S. Lee, PhD, George Mason University; Mark Courtney, PhD, University of Chicago
Psychiatric Emergency Service Use Among Young Adults: Precipitators and Patterns
Sarah Narendorf, PhD, University of Houston; Michelle R. Munson, PhD, New York University; Richard Wagner, EdM, University of Houston; Micki Washburn, MA, University of Houston
Illness Perceptions Among Former System Youth with Mood Disorders
Michelle R. Munson, PhD, New York University; Sarah Narendorf, PhD, University of Houston; Shelly Ben-David, LMSW, New York University; Andrea Cole, MSW, New York University
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