The Challenge: Disconnected Youth
There are currently over 35,000 young people across Hampton Roads, Virginia, between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither working nor in school. They are not aging into productive adult life and the workforce.
This phenomenon has come to be called "Youth Disconnection." These are not youth that are just struggling to transition effectively into adult life (that's about another 35,000 youth). These are the youth who are not making it at all. They are aging right into unemployment, homelessness, and possibly even incarceration. They experience depression, substance abuse, and exploitation at a far higher rate than their peers. This is a moral issue and a social justice issue, but it is also an economic issue for Hampton Roads. Each disconnected youth imposes an immediate taxpayer burden of $13,900 and an immediate social services burden of $37,450 per year. Combined, that means that for each year that a single youth is disconnected, it's costing municipalities over $51,000.
Based on a recent report from the Social Science Research Council titled "Zeroing In On Place and Race: Youth Disconnection in America's Cities," we know that these youth tend to come from disadvantaged neighborhoods where they grow up without many options or role models for successful adult behavior. Beyond neighborhoods, they share risk factors in childhood and adolescence such as being in foster care, involvement with the courts or juvenile justice system, family poverty or homelessness, psychological or developmental challenges, teen pregnancy, and academic challenges or failure to graduate from high school. Hampton Roads is 45th out of 98 metropolitan areas studied for disconnected youth as a percentage of overall youth population.
The Together We Can Foundation began in 2008 with a focus on helping teens in foster care avoid disconnection, but after several years of successful outcomes with foster care teens, we expanded our mission and our reach to serve youth with additional risk factors. Our Smart Transitions initiative reaches over 700 youth each year with direct services and thousands of area youth through the distribution of our Smart Transitions Guides and Workbooks and the youth program staff training we provide. Youth who complete one of our success skills classes are 9 times more likely to finish high school and pursue post secondary education or training and 4.5 times more likely to find employment. Not only are we making a difference in the lives of young people in Hampton Roads, but we are working to support other agencies in their efforts to guarantee "smarter transitions" for the youth they serve.
But, none of this would be possible without donors like you.