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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Vulnerable Youth: Background and Policies

Adrienne L. Fernandes-Alcantara
Specialist in Social Policy

The majority of young people in the United States grow up healthy and safe in their communities. Most of those of school age live with parents who provide for their well-being, and they attend schools that prepare them for advanced education or vocational training and, ultimately, selfsufficiency. Many youth also receive assistance from their families during the transition to adulthood. During this period, young adults cycle between attending school, living independently, and staying with their families. Approximately 60% of parents today provide financial support to their adult children who are no longer in school. This support comes in the form of housing (50% of parents provide this support to their adult children), living expenses (48%), cost of transportation (41%), health insurance (35%), spending money (29%), and medical bills (28%). Even with this assistance, the current move from adolescence to adulthood has become longer and increasingly complex.

For vulnerable (or “at-risk”) youth populations, the transition to adulthood is further complicated by a number of challenges, including family conflict or abandonment and obstacles to securing employment that provides adequate wages and health insurance. These youth may be prone to outcomes that have negative consequences for their future development as responsible, selfsufficient adults. Risk outcomes include teenage parenthood; homelessness; drug abuse; delinquency; physical and sexual abuse; and school dropout. Detachment from the labor market and school—or disconnectedness—may be the single strongest indicator that the transition to adulthood has not been made successfully.

The federal government has not adopted a single overarching federal policy or legislative vehicle that addresses the challenges vulnerable youth experience in adolescence or while making the transition to adulthood. Rather, federal youth policy today has evolved from multiple programs established in the early 20th century and expanded in the years following the 1964 announcement of the War on Poverty. These programs are concentrated in six areas: workforce development, education, juvenile justice and delinquency prevention, social services, public health, and national and community service. They are intended to provide vulnerable youth with opportunities to develop skills to assist them in adulthood.

Despite the range of federal services and activities to assist disadvantaged youth, many of these programs have not developed into a coherent system of support. This is due in part to the administration of programs within several agencies and the lack of mechanisms to coordinate their activities. In response to concerns about the complex federal structure developed to assist vulnerable youth, Congress passed the Tom Osborne Federal Youth Coordination Act (P.L. 109- 365) in 2006. Though activities under the act were never funded, the Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs was formed in 2008 under Executive Order 13459 to carry out coordinating activities across multiple agencies that oversee youth programs. Separately, Congress has considered other legislation (the Younger Americans Act of 2000 and the Youth Community Development Block Grant of 1995) to improve the delivery of services to vulnerable youth and provide opportunities to these youth through policies with a “positive youth development” focus.

Date of Report: October 1, 2012
Number of Pages: 69
Order Number: RL33975
Price: $29.95

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