Abstract: System-Involved Youth and Workforce Development: How Do Localities Address Youth Needs? (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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System-Involved Youth and Workforce Development: How Do Localities Address Youth Needs?

Friday, January 22, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Mary Collins, PhD, Professor, Social Welfare Policy, Boston University, Boston, MA
Adrianna Spindle-Jackson, MSW, Doctoral student, Boston University, Boston, MA
Background: According to a report by the Social Science Research Council (Burds-Sharps & Lewis, 2018), in 2016, 4.6 million (11.7 percent) young people in the U.S. were disconnected (not in school and not working). To effectively address this issue, there is a need for broad systems change that aligns the multiple networks engaged in workforce development for young people. Social work practitioners are often involved with these young people at community, program, and policy levels. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) is the primary federal legislation to address employment needs of disadvantaged populations. This project examined efforts of State and Local Workforce Development Boards (WDBs) to address the needs of system-involved youth (e.g., foster care, juvenile justice) in workforce development.

Method: Ten Local WDBs in 10 different states were selected. To reduce sources of variation the sample focused on small and medium sized states/localities. States were also selected based on percentage of disconnected youth in the state and geographic diversity. Three qualitative interviews were conducted in each setting: member of the Local WDB, member of the Youth Committee, member of the State WDB. Domains for the interviews included the following: membership; past/current initiatives for child welfare/juvenile justice populations; strategies for braided funding; local level data sharing and use; contracting processes; existence of Youth Board or other mechanism; programming (type, location, evaluation data). Interviews were supplemented by document review (state strategic plans, local implementation plans) and review of performance data. Thematic analysis organized data following procedures suggested by Miles and Huberman (1994), such as within-case analysis to identify unique factors, and cross-case analysis to describe commonalities and explain differences. Several methods were utilized to enhance the validity of findings: triangulation of method; detailed notes; preparation of an evidence trail linking data, analysis, and conclusions.

Results: Local WDBs worked closely with State WDBs to implement sector strategies for enhancing employment opportunities. The geographic variation of the sample allowed for understanding variation in economic conditions and employment sectors (e.g., health services, technology, construction). While Local WDBs were generally committed to engaging system-involved youth in their programming, successful implementation was dependent on the engagement of relevant partners with expertise in youth populations (often a non-profit with youth development expertise). Partnerships exhibited various characteristics (e.g., dominance, reciprocity). Additionally, while State WDBs included state agencies serving vulnerable youth, these perspectives were not always visible. Youth engagement at the local level was also highly uneven. Local WDBs were committed to this but expressed common challenges (e.g., transportation).

Implications: Effects of COVID-19 are expected to create additional challenges to youth employment. Consequently, lessons from the study have critical implications for strengthening workforce development for system-involved youth. Relevant lessons include: partnership strategies that emphasize inclusion of state agencies (child welfare, juvenile justice), linkage of training opportunities to growing employment sectors, youth development expertise that provides options for youth voice in planning, and data-driven decision-making. Both policy-based and practice-based social workers can further systems-change in these ways.