Abstract: Addressing Youth Trauma and Building Youth Strengths: Perspectives from Workforce Development (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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112P Addressing Youth Trauma and Building Youth Strengths: Perspectives from Workforce Development

Thursday, January 12, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Mary Collins, A.M., PhD, Professor and Department Chair, Social Welfare Policy, Boston University, Boston, MA
Shamekka Kuykendall, Instructor, Boston University
Milagros Ramirez, Instructor, Boston University
Adrianna Spindle-Jackson, LMSW, Doctoral Student, Boston University, Boston, MA
Background and Purpose: Youth who are not engaged in school or work (termed “disconnected” or “opportunity” youth) face many challenges as they transition into adulthood. Recent research by (Lewis, 2021) finds that the 2019 youth disconnection rate was 10.7 percent. Youth of color, males, and living in some geographic areas have higher rates. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) is the primary federal legislation to address employment needs of disadvantaged populations. Our research sought to understand how Workforce Development Boards address the needs of opportunity youth.

Method: Data from two related studies conducted in 2020-2021will be reported in this presentation. Both studies aimed to understand local workforce development systems that implement WIOA within localities. Localities were selected to cover a range of geographic areas and represented large urban areas, smaller cities, and rural communities. Study 1 was primarily focused on non-urban settings; Study 2 was specifically focused on urban areas. The states selected represented all major geographic areas of the U.S. (e.g., Northwest, mid-Atlantic, upper Midwest). Interviews were conducted with the leadership of the local and state workforce development boards as well as youth specialists (contracted provider or chair of youth committee). A total of sixty-one interviews were conducted between April 2020 and March 2021. 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). The current analysis focused on identifying themes related to (1) youth strengths and (2) youth trauma.

Results: Themes related to youth-strengths focused on: (1) youth resilience (e.g., how much stress they deal with); (2) youth potential (e.g., recognizing possibilities for youths’ futures); (3) youth creativity (e.g., potential training for entrepreneurship in business). Themes related to trauma focused on: (1) ubiquity of trauma in youths’ lives; (2) specific causes of trauma (e.g., deep and intergenerational poverty, community and family violence, lack of opportunities and role models to help them); (3) need for trauma-informed approaches. Although use of trauma-informed approaches was not frequent, several respondents expressed the need for and interest in trauma-focused interventions. Positive youth development approaches, emphasizing youth strengths, were noted more commonly, and usually by the youth specialist.

Implications: Effectively addressing youth disconnection from employment and education requires attention to both youths' inherent strengths and the realities of their trauma. The findings suggest the need for integrated models of policy and practice. Trauma-informed care is new to most workforce development practitioners although a few systems are beginning this work (Choitz & Wagner, 2021). Perspectives of positive youth development are also relevant to ensure youth strengths and youth voice are integral to efforts. Study findings inform suggestions to integrate these two models. Suggestions include ensuring basic needs of youth are met, developing workforce interventions that target additional family members, and building a race equity lens into practice.