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Entries tagged "Youth"

Let's Give Kids Better Mental Health

June 26, 2012 ·

“People are just not reaching us where we are at.  We want to be reached.” – Washington, D.C. focus group youth participant.

The mental well-being of our youth is crucial to achieving progress and prosperity in our communities. In Washington, DC, youth face particular challenges as disparities in resources and risks vary drastically in just a matter of miles. I wrote JPI’s report, Mindful of the Consequences: Improving the Mental Health for DC’s Youth Benefits the District, to show that current prevention and treatment services do not match the level of need and many youth are at risk for contact with the justice system due to untreated mental problems. To illustrate this, I mapped where arrested youth are coming from: predominately areas of low income and high rates of risk factors that impact mental well-being.

Some D.C. leaders will criticize this report citing the millions of dollars being spent already on mental health – as if that should be enough. My challenge to D.C. leaders is to admit that what is being done is not enough. Too many children are suffering from poor mental health while not receiving the attention needed. Too many youth are being misunderstood when their cry for help looks like aggression. Far too many are being penalized and channeled into a lifetime of involvement with the justice system just because it was too expensive to…invest in psychologists.

Melissa Neal, DrPH, is Senior Research Associate for the Justice Policy Institute. A longer version of this post appears on their Just Policy Blog.

The District Has a Youth Unemployment Crisis

May 16, 2012 ·

DC youth between the ages of 16 to 19 are in crisis. They are experiencing unemployment levels 2.3 times the national average, reports the Justice Policy Institute in their latest research brief Working for a Better Future.

The brief takes a look at the collateral effects on youth who do not have access to jobs, such as higher rates of juvenile justice involvement, negative self-image and disconnection from their community. It also provides compelling evidence for the District to invest substantially more into dynamic long-term job training and placement assistance programs that incorporate job skills development, mentoring, job placement, and innovative program completion incentives like a GED and adjudication expungement. There is a generation of young people who are growing up without the skills and experiences to prepare them to contribute in meaningful ways to their lives, families and communities once they reach adulthood.

Often, I find myself in conversations with people about local DC youth and the popular perception is that these kids don't want to try and take advantage of what's here.  It's true that, on the surface, the District has a wealth of programs set up to "engage, train, and employ young people. Too often, however, this work is fragmented, uncoordinated, and focuses on the quantity of youth served over the quality of intervention." And once through these programs, young people have little to show for it and run the risk of having more encounters with the justice system, becoming a victim of crime, and limited and low-paid work opportunities. The District has a responsibility to make sure its youth in the juvenile are equipped to succeed by offering quality programming that promotes public safety and opportunities for self-development.  

The following are examples of successful programs operating in DC offering comprehensive programming that results in positive changes in the lives of DC youth:

  • Youth Build U.S.A - serves low-income young people ages 16-24.
  • YearUp - focuses on IT skills training and has a mission focused on helping young people overcome barriers to success due to criminal convictions.
  • STRIVE - seeks to "transform the lives of at-risk populations by providing support and training that lead to livable wage employment and societal reintegration."
  • JobCorps - a residential education and training program for youth ages 16-24

The report offers the following policy recommendations:

  1. Invest more in quality employment programs for youth that includes efforts to link youth with work that interests them, has potential for advancement and development, and connects them to their community.
  2. Dedicate more resources in the wards with the most need to access the job market.
  3. Use evidence-based models that have been shown to positively impact youth.
  4. Ensure that employer partners accept youth who have successfully completed job preparedness programs regardless of justice system contact.
  5. Consider innovative incentives for increasing youth participation in programs.

 

A Generation Exhales with Bin Laden's Death

May 4, 2011 ·

The enthusiastic flag-waving. The gaudy red, white, and blue jumpsuits, the booming chants of "USA, USA, USA." The huge crowd of jubilant young people gathered outside the White House, celebrating Osama bin Laden's death.

Is it right to celebrate the death of an individual, even one as abhorrent as bin Laden?

His death won't bring home the thousands of troops fighting and losing their lives in the name of "nation-building" in Iraq and Afghanistan. The "Global War on Terror" (a never-ending war on a tactic) won't end with bin Laden's death. Is it really appropriate to engage in such unrestrained partying?

I feel it's somewhat jarring to see the images of Americans marking this historic moment by partying outside the White House and across the country. We may be effectively guilty of celebrating death and exhibiting the worst of Western excesses, while we continue to condone drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan that kill terrorists and civilians alike.

However, from the perspective of someone who was only 11 years old when the 9-11 attacks happened (as were many of the college-age revelers), there's a real emotional and mental aspect to this event that is being overlooked. Every young person in my age group vividly remembers where he or she was when the terrorist attacks happened. I remember hearing the news crackle through the radio on my school bus in London and then seeing the horrific images of the attacks once I got home.

While my contemporaries and I may not have had the ability to look at the events through a critical lens, the images from those days will be forever burned into our psyches. There was a definite feeling that the world we knew before the attacks was gone and that things would never be the same again.

For those of us who grew up in the West under the shadow of the attacks in New York, Washington, Madrid, and London, Osama bin Laden is really the embodiment of a world that has become gripped in fear and hatred. A man who was responsible in whole or in part for murdering thousands of people, encouraging a climate where human rights and freedoms are limited, destroying the popular image of Islam as a religion, and radicalizing the debate on identity so that it has become "them vs. us." Perhaps  my generation, he has become a literal bogeyman who changed the world we live in for the worse.

The kind of celebrations that erupted in front of the White House could be seen as a disturbing sign of people who have been whipped up into a jingoistic frenzy. However, I suggest that these celebrations are something else: the collective "exhale" of a group of young men and women who have grown up in a world that lacked confidence, belief, and any semblance of "peace."

 

Laurence Hull is a former Foreign Policy In Focus intern at the Institute for Policy Studies. He lives in London, UK and is studying history and international studies at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. www.ips-dc.org

Red, White, and Blue Frenzy

May 3, 2011 ·

Honking cars and shouting young people made their way to the White House on Sunday night. American flags were everywhere. Revving motorcycle engines rattled downtown Washington in the middle of the night. Hurried news reporters jostled to get the best footage of the jubilant crowds celebrating Osama bin Laden's death. Draped with red, white, and blue the crowd sang the national anthem and chanted "USA, USA!"

It all evoked the joyful scene at President Barack Obama's inauguration. This time, however, the aggressive euphoria of carousing soccer hooligans ruled. The mob consisted largely of local college students, many donning their school colors. One large group from Georgetown University sang their school's football song: "Ra, ra, ra, cheer for victory today!" An odd assortment of chants rang through the night. One group chanted, "Lower gas prices! Lower gas prices!" as they made their way around the Treasury Department.

Many in the cheering crowds seemed unclear on why they were celebrating. Newscasters were saying that this was a "mission accomplished" moment, as if the Afghanistan War and its tens of thousands of deaths, were all about capturing one man.

But did anyone really think that the whole of "Operation Enduring Freedom" was just a bin Laden snipe hunt in the lawless desert hills? What about the oil, the drugs, the other regional factors? What about the devastation and domination of an entire country? Those questions didn't seem to be on the revelers' minds.

"I am here celebrating. It's justice day," said Jeremy Stern, 21, a George Mason University student who was wearing the stars and stripes. Stern had traveled from his Fairfax, Virginia campus to participate in the festivities, walking over a mile at the end to avoid traffic congestion. "USA! It's about f**king time! Freedom is the only way!" he shouted.

Joyful scene at the White House in response to Osama bin Laden's death. Creative Commons photo by thisisbossi

When asked why he was so enthusiastic, Stern became more sober. "As a Christian, I do feel a little bit guilty that I'm celebrating a human being's death," he said. "I'm sorry, love thy neighbor. I feel that. And in the end, I am out here celebrating."

Young people seemed cheer for almost anything. A crossing guard, a young guy climbing a lamppost with an American flag, and a fiddler playing a foot-stomping bluegrass tune — they all got love from the crowd.

"Osama bin Laden has been hunted for over half my life," said the fiddler, Henry Meyers, 18. "It's unreal to see this happen," the Washington, DC high school student added.

For 10 years, many Americans have seen bin Laden as the personification of evil, especially those who were young when the attacks occurred on 9-11. The news of his assassination seemed to strike a chord with the younger generation.

"America, f**k yeah!" said the handmade sign held aloft by Sean Levy, 20, a George Washington University student. The slogan, shouted often by the crowd, is the title of a soundtrack from "Team America: World Police," a 2004 film known for ironic jokes about U.S. imperialism. Levy explained that his sign means that "America is one of the greatest countries ever." He added that bin Laden's death "means a lot to the country."

Few revelers had much to say about the impact of bin Laden's death. They weren't sure whether the death would change U.S. foreign policy toward the Arab world. Not many asked whether bin Laden's compound may have been known in advance to U.S. intelligence personnel. There were no questions being murmured about whether any official autopsy was performed on bin Laden's body before his "burial at sea." Or how many civilians were killed during the raid that ended his life. For all of the loud voices at the White House on Sunday night, there were few questions asked.

A much more subdued participant had some clarity as to why he was there.

"I've been a little motivated tonight. I'm a United States Marine," said the man, a war veteran in his late twenties who declined to give his name because he's not authorized to represent his branch of service. He was draped with an American flag  and wore a gray T-shirt reading "USMC." The man said he served in Afghanistan for a year.

"Today's a big deal to me because me and my friends, we all signed up after 9-11, and a lot of them didn't come home. So it means a lot to me that one of the main reasons that we signed up is now kind of over."

One thing is certain. There are now fewer excuses for U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan or Iraq, and fewer reasons for the Pentagon to continue aerial drone attacks on people in Pakistan. No matter what the real reasons are for the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, whether it's oil, drugs, money, influence, something else, Washington can't continue to cause death and destruction in the name of some unholy manhunt to find America's most wanted terrorist.

Now it's really time to call on the government to bring our troops home now and stop the needless killing in the Arab world. Let the death of bin Laden, and the decisions the Obama administration now faces, lead us away from military aggression, and towards peace.

Matias Ramos is the 2011 Carol Jean and Edward F. Newman Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Lacy MacAuley is the Institute's Media Relations Manager. www.ips-dc.org