Youth in the USA - Framework for Growing Up in the U.S.

Youth in the USA

Framework for Growing Up in the United States



The United States have an effect on our everyday lives like hardly any other country, whether it is through politi - cal debates, global tech trends, or just a new blockbuster that is hitting the big screen. There is ongoing interest in the country, especially amongst German youth. For stu - dents, the USA remain one of the most popular destina - tions for long-term exchanges. Therefore, learning and understanding this nation is imperative. On behalf of the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Seni - or Citizens, Women and Youth, IJAB has been working to intensify U.S.-German-cooperation since 2021. We want to give youth service professionals and youth the oppor - tunity to learn more about the framework and system that young U.S.-Americans grow up in.

The following script provides an insight into the field of youth policy and youth work in a system that can be dif - ficult to navigate due to the size of the country, its fe - deral structure, and its diversity. Readers will learn why the philanthropic sector is so important in the U.S., un - derstand the importance of educational institutions in youth work, and learn how structural racism continues to affect the social mobility of children and youth today. It might even help those active in transatlantic exchange to better understand U.S.-American partners or to look for new partners in the right place. The information and insights presented here were writ - ten by a U.S.-citizen and edited by IJAB. They offer a mere glimpse into youth policy and youth work in the U.S. and we are happy to receive comments and suggestions.

Elena Neu, Natali Petala-Weber, Cathrin Piesche and Julia Weber


Table of contents




The Secondary School System


General Information about the United States

Demographics within the U.S. Educational System Special Types of Schools Within the U.S. Education System



Framework for Growing Up as a Youth in the U.S.


U.S. School Academics


Defining Youth


Other School Aspects


Demographic Shift


Influences on the U.S. Education System


Different Realities Create Different Outcomes


School Reflections


Youth Situated Within Their Communities




Career and Employment

Youth With Disabilities


Transition into Employment




Rules and Regulation for Youth Employment


Family and Marriage


Youth Unemployment


Pop Culture, Digitalization and Media


Mental Health


International Education and Work for Youth United States Government Programs for International Youth Education

Guns and Violence


Alcohol, Tobacco and Drugs



Youth Homelessness


Other Programs


Framework and Structures in the Field of Youth Policy

Further Information

Stakeholders in Youth Policy


Relevant Policy Groups and Organizations


Topics in the Area of Children and Youth




Youth Participation / Youth Councils


A Small Sampling of Youth Policy by State




Working with Youth in the United States


Topics in the Area of Children and Youth

Civic Education


Extracurricular Activities and Youth Development


Volunteer Opportunities for Post-Secondary Youth


Post-Secondary Volunteer Opportunities


Political Advocacy Youth Volunteering



General Information about the United States

The United States is a diverse country with a popula - tion of slightly under 335 million people between 50 different states. While English is the most predomi - nantly spoken language, Spanish is also spoken by approximately 13 % of the population. Additionally, there are over a million speakers each of Chinese, Vietnamese, Arabic, French, and Korean.


Youth in the USA


General Information




Washington D. C.

New York City, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Boston, Philadelphia, Seattle English only 78.2 %, Spanish 13.4 %, Chinese 1.1 %, other 7.3 % (2017 est.)

Other large cities:

Spoken Languages:

Per Capita Income:

USD 62,600

Life Expectancy:

80,43 years

Population Growth Rate:

0,7 %

Administrative system:

Constitutional Federal Republic


Joseph R. Biden (2020-2024)

Protestant 46.5 %, Roman Catholic 20.8 %, Jewish 1.9 %, Church of Jesus Christ 1.6 %, other Christian 0.9 %, Muslim 0.9 %, Jehovah's Witness 0.8 %, Buddhist 0.7 %, Hindu 0.7 %, other 1.8 %, unaffiliated 22.8 %


The government is a constitutional federal republic with three branches of government. These branches in - clude:

Highest level of education of the population age 25 and older:

» » 8.9 % had less than a high school diploma or equiva - lent.

» » The executive branch for the president, their cabinet, and federal agencies

» » 27.9 % had high school graduate as their highest level of school completed.

» » The legislative branch which entails a bicameral Congress with the Senate (2 seats for each state for a total of 100 seats) and the House of representatives (435 seats based on population)

» » 14.9 % had completed some college but not a degree.

» » 10.5 % had an associate degree as their highest level of school completed.

» » The judicial branch for the Supreme Court and other federal courts.

» » 23.5 % had a bachelor’s degree as their highest degree.

» » 14.4 % had completed an advanced degree.


Youth in the USA

The United States is also ageing , with its older populati - on expected to more than double over the next two de - cades. By the year 2050, people who are 65 years of age and older will outnumber those who are 18 and younger. The expectations of this younger generation continue to change the social fabric of the nation.

The United States continues to see unprecedented mul - tiracial population growth while seeing a decline in its white population (by 8.6 % since 2010) for the first time in the nation’s history. These changes are having a tre - mendous impact on the country, from the overall politi - cal rhetoric expressed in the country to where people live and grow their families. There have been consequences to these developments as well, with the labor force re - ductions resulting in supply chain issues, not to mention the negative impacts on social safety net.

Population Age Ranges (2020 est.):

» » 0-14 years: 18.46 % (male 31,374,555 / female 30,034,371)

Racial Demographic Breakdown:

» » 15-24 years: 12.91 % (male 21,931,368 / female 21,006,463)

» » White: 57.8 %

» » 25-54 years: 38.92 % (male 64,893,670 / female 64,564,565)

» » Hispanic: 18.7 %

» » Black: 12.4 %

» » 55-64 years: 12.86 % (male 20,690,736 / female 22,091,808)

» » Asian: 6 %

» » 65 years and over: 16.85 % (male 25,014,147 / female 31,037,419)



Framework for Growing Up as a Youth in the U.S.

The life of a young person in the U.S. is defined as much by their geographic location as it is by their family’s socioeconomic situation. Everything from the quality of their education, to the extracurricular opportunities that they are able to participate in is impacted. Further, racism, classism, and sexism from the past and present continues to have a tremendous impact on a student’s future success as an adult.


Youth in the USA

From a policy angle, the United States does not have a set, defined age as to what constitutes “youth".

A young person growing up in one neighbor - hood, state, or region of the United States will therefore have more or fewer opportunities as a result. The experience of a youth who is Black in the U.S. South, for instance will vary tremendously from a White youth on the U.S. West Coast. Research has shown that these realities can be broken down along many va - riables, from healthcare and life expectancy to career success and socio-economic outcomes. While many young people tend to live with their immediate family, some may also live in less traditional living situations, including with grandparents or other family members. In ur - ban areas, there tends to be more racial and ethnic diversity in schools and communities that allows young people to engage with peo - ple from different backgrounds while in rural areas, there tends to be less diversity. While it was ruled that racial segregation among schools and other public spaces is illegal in 1954, with the Brown vs. Board of Education

Supreme Court Decision, many schools in the United States continue to be deeply segrega - ted by race. This is because where a student goes to public schools is dependent upon their zip code and the property taxes that are paid within that zip code, which is correlated to how much money a family earns and their race. Defining Youth From a policy angle, the United States does not have a set, defined age as to what constitutes “youth,” but an official definition generally re - volves around the notion of a “youth” consti - tuting anyone under the age of twenty-five, from a theoretical standpoint at least. Within the United States, an individual is officially con - sidered to be an adult at the age of eighteen. Further, ages fourteen and under are conside - red early adolescents, while adolescents them - selves are those between the ages of fourteen to eighteen, and early adulthood is considered ages eighteen to twenty-four. This distinction


Framework for Growing Up as a Youth in the U.S.

is important, as the United States has historically strugg - led to contextualize direct interventions that are particu - lar for this age group. Adolescents in the United States have special legal pro - tections afforded to them surrounding a variety of an - gles including labor, education, alcohol consumption, healthcare, and so forth. The rights afforded to them are divided between federal, state, and local jurisdictions. Upon reaching the age of eighteen, a person is consi - dered to be an adult and therefore loses many of these special considerations and protections. Demographic Shift The realities of racism, classism, and sexism in the Uni - ted States persist despite the country changing tremend - ously each day. The U.S.’s population is now aging at an unprecedented level and the rapidly aging population ( Baby Boomers ) is increasingly becoming more depen - dent on the younger generation – a younger generation that is more diverse than any other the United States has ever seen. Thus, the U.S. is faced with a prevailing chal - lenge – how to promote equality with an aging populati - on that continues to own many of the resources that are needed to create a brighter future for everyone. There tends to be tensions between the Baby Boomer popu - lation and youth, with the older population not able to fully understand the extent of the challenges that young people face today in addition to youth feeling misunder -

stood by them. Because the cost of living and attending college has gone up drastically, it is not always possib - le for the current generation of young people to follow the same path that their parents or other older relatives completed. Different Realities Create Different Outcomes Youth in the United States face different realities and life outcomes depending on variables as disparate as the zip code that they were born in, to whether or not they at - tend a city or county school. City schools are located in more urban centers while county schools are typically in the suburbs connected to the outskirts of these cities or in smaller towns. Often times, whether or not a person is successful in the United States is reliant as much on whe - ther or not they were born within the right circumstan - ces as it is upon their innate ability. This is a reality faced by many youth around the world, but the hypocrisy is amplified within the United States because of the relati - ve financial wealth of the country and, subsequently, the collective efforts by government and society to try and mitigate the consequences of a system that can make or break a person based off of many factors outside of their control. According to official Census U.S. poverty measures, 11.6 million children (or 1 in 7) – which would equate to 16 % of all kids in the United States – were living in poverty in


Youth in the USA

2020. This total has increased by more than one milli - on children since 2019 and is likely even higher due to the last effects of the COVID pandemic. Poverty levels vary across the United States, with Mississippi having the highest percentage at nearly 30 % of its children in poverty. These poverty rates are disproportionately high for children of color. Nationwide, Black (28 %), Indige - nous peoples of America (25 %) and Latino (23 %) youth are more likely to grow up poor when compared to their non-Hispanic white (10 %) and Asian American and Paci - fic Islanders (9 %) peers. As a result, many youth in the United States, especially those who grow up in lower-income urban or rural com - munities will often be focused on trying to break familial cycles of poverty and avoiding a criminal justice system that disproportionately affects poor young people, Black young people, and young people of color. Education can often be seen as a way to break these cycles and to have

a decent career. Alternatively, some youth in these de - mographics may not be so concerned with school and may be more focused on jobs that they have outside of school so that they can make money for themselves and their families. For those youth who grow up in higher- income communities, being college-bound and trying to get into the best university possible is instilled from late middle school to early high school and onward. Youth in higher-income schools and communities will often try to get good grades, be very involved in extracurricular acti - vities, volunteering, and leadership positions in order to be competitive for their college applications. Youth Situated Within Their Communities Young people in the United States are very connected to their social peer groups while attending school. The friend groups that they develop in school and in extra -


Framework for Growing Up as a Youth in the U.S.

curricular activities can become a strong support net - work. Sometimes students stay in cliques of the same group of friends, while other students may have several different groups of friends. Like most youth around the world, they are often friends with people on the same sports team or in the same extracurricular clubs as them because of their shared interests. They also develop friend groups from spaces outside of their school such as their church, recreational sports leagues outside of school, their neighborhoods, and other social clubs. While the level of community and school resources can vary based on socio-economic demographics, across the board the culture of extracurricular activities such as sports, music, arts, and academic clubs tends to be very strong in the United States. Many students play some form of sport from a young age either through their school or an external recreational league. Soccer, football, and basketball are the most popular sports among young people, but they can also participate in track and field, cross country, field hockey, lacrosse,

baseball, and other sports. The practice time and games for sports tend to happen right after the school day and on weekends. In some school communities, particularly in lower-income parts of the South, sports such as foot - ball and basketball are sometimes seen as a way out of poverty and low-income students can be very motivated to do well in order to obtain sports scholarships to col - lege. However, the proportion of students that hold this aspiration compared with the number of young people who actually receive college scholarships for sports is ex - tremely low, with only 2 % of high school athletes being awarded scholarships to compete at the collegiate level according to the National Collegiate Athletic Association . Other clubs that youth focus on include band, theater, visual arts, newspaper, student council, Model United Nations, and other more academic or arts-oriented clubs which also tend to happen right after the school day and meet anywhere from once a week to every weekday af - ter school. Depending on the school, some students are able to participate in multiple clubs and explore sports, arts and/or more academic-oriented clubs concurrently.


Youth in the USA

Students attend their school day typically from around eight or nine in the morning until three or four in the afternoon. From there, students can stay after school for sports or other extracurricular activity clubs, and then go home via school bus, public transportation, or their parents/other family members picking them up from school. In New York City and other large cities, it is not uncommon for high school students to take public transportation such as the subway to school. However, in many areas, especially more suburban and rural are - as, most students take a school bus to get to and from school. Students in higher socio-economic classes may have their own car to drive to and from school after they get their license from the age of 16 and onward. While some young people in the United States are very focused on their personal and family lives, as well as their career paths and extracurricular activities, there are many young people in the United States who engage in activism for racial, economic, gender and environmen - tal justice. There are several youth-led advocacy groups such as the Sunrise Movement that focus on environ - mental justice and March for our Lives , which focuses on gun control where young people can engage in political causes. The role and activism of these organizations has grown substantially over the last ten years. Some high schools and universities have local chapters of political advocacy groups that allow young people to engage in pushing for a more just United States to eliminate the inequities that exist by race, class, gender, sexuality, and more. LGBTQIA+ There are approximately two million young people bet - ween the ages of thirteen to seventeen that identify as LGBTQIA+ in the United States, which constitutes 10 % of the youth population. In more recent years, there has been more acceptance towards LGBTQIA+ youth from their peers. However, there has also been recent state and local-level movement from mostly conservative sta - te legislatures to target the ability of these young people to live their lives freely. LGBTQIA+ youth are more like - ly than their heterosexual peers to experience negative health and life outcomes due to bullying and a lack of support for their mental and physical health. Increasin - gly federal and local policies are acknowledging and fo - cusing on the experiences and needs of LGBTQIA+ youth. Numerous national advocacy groups and other organiza - tions are also giving greater attention to LGBTQIA+ youth in their work. The Trevor Project is the largest non-profit

organization in the United States that focuses on suicide prevention and crisis intervention for LGBTQIA+ youth. However, the work of organizations like this and the po - licy advancements for LGBTQIA+ youth have come after hard fought legal fights and are constantly under threat. Youth With Disabilities The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), enacted in 1975, mandates that children and youth ages three to twenty-one with disabilities be provided a free and appropriate public school education. The resources that youth are afforded is broken down by federal, state, and local school district. The most commonly used tool to help guide students in this category is the Individual Education Plan (IEP), which lays out the special educa - tion methods, instruction, supports, and services that a special needs student requires. Further, the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability provides a range of assessments that can help with the transition from school to employment. In addition to their focus on career planning, these resources recognize unique chal - lenges faced by youth with disabilities.


Driving Young people can learn to drive in the United States around the age of 16. The access to public transporta - tion in the U.S. is less sophisticated than in many other countries. Larger cities such as New York City and Chica - go have more robust public transportation systems, but many Americans need access to a car to get around. This is especially the case in more rural areas, where teens are oftentimes reliant on vehicles to get around to their various extracurricular activities in high school – thus ex - posing themselves and the general public to increased driving danger due to their relative immaturity and lack of experience. Family and Marriage The notion of a family continues to shift and change in the United States. Nearly every other marriage will end in divorce and the amount of single mothers in the U.S. has never been higher. Young people are not as interes - ted in the concept of marriage anymore as well, and are fine with cohabitation with their partner(s) instead of committing their future to someone else. Further, with the legalization of marriage for LGBTQIA+ people, who and what constitutes a set of parents has been perma - nently altered and the idea of a traditional family has no particular definition, as a result. Young people can grow up in a variety of familial household situations that are different from traditional nuclear families.

Pop Culture, Digitalization and Media Youth in the U.S. have a significant influence on popu - lar culture. Everything from TV and music to the latest fashion is often dictated by the trends and experience of young people. Social media has become a very inte - gral part of the lives of young people in the United Sta - tes. 90 % of teens ages thirteen to seventeen have used social media and 75 % have reported that they have at least one active social media profile. YouTube, Snapchat, and Instagram were the most popular social media plat - forms as of 2018, though in recent years TikTok has also become extremely popular. As of 2018, 95 % of teens in the United States own their own smartphone and 45 % of teens have said that they are online on a constant ba - sis. As of 2021, 63 % of youth between the ages of twelve and seventeen used TikTok on a weekly basis, compared to 57 % on Instagram. A majority of U.S. youth also have access to a gaming console in their homes, though boys are more likely to play video games than girls (95 % ver - sus 83 %). The use of social media has elevated the consumerism and need for approval among one’s peers that is typi - cal of young people. However, social media has also be - come a tool for young people to engage with and share their concerns about social justice issues. Many trends for young people focus on elevating issues of racial, gen - der, and environmental justice. With the proliferation of the internet, their impact is felt throughout society, from changing the fabric of the country’s economic sys - tem to forcing and influencing political movements, the


Youth in the USA

youth of today have more power than ever in shaping America’s pop culture. Many young people use soci - al media platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter in order to both discuss and shape pop culture, while also discussing social justice issues that they care about. Young people with large followings can gain sponsor - ships from brands and many young people use this as an opportunity to highlight social justice issues that are important to them. While there are benefits to this, including being able to stay connected to friends, sharing art or other work, pro - moting social justice activism, and self-expression, there are also many negative mental health effects of social media. Social media has been a place where some young people have experienced cyber-bullying from peers at school or have been exposed to harmful and violent content. There are also privacy concerns and concerns around others obtaining their personal information. Overall, there are mixed opinions among young people regarding whether social media has a positive, neutral, or negative effect on their lives. their peers on racial, economic, gender and environmental justice, as well as organize protests or other forms of activism. Mental Health Mental health and the many challenges associated have been a leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes for young people in the United States, with up to one in

five children ages three to seventeen in the U.S. having a mental, emotional, developmental, or behavioral disor - der. Additionally, from 2009 to 2019, the share of youth in U.S. high schools who reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness was reported to be about one in three students. Mental health challenges in children, adolescents, and young adults are real and widespread. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic began, an increa - sing amount of young people struggled with feelings of helplessness, depression, and thoughts of suicide — and these rates have steadily grown over the past decade. This can be attributed to social media use, bullying in schools, eating disorders and body image issues, discri - mination-based trauma and more. In December of 2021, the United States surgeon general issued an advisory about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health for youth due to how much it has altered their ex - periences and habits at home, school, and socially. This is particularly true for demographics of youth who were already vulnerable, including youth with disabilities, eth - nic and racial minorities, LGBTQIA+ youth, low-income youth, youth in immigrant households, along with youth in the juvenile justice system. However, despite the in - crease of mental health challenges, young people in the current generation have been much more open about these challenges among their peers and mental health issues have increasingly become less taboo. Social me - dia has become a way to share tools for managing men - tal health issues and promoting lifestyle changes that can help young people with these issues.


Framework for Growing Up as a Youth in the U.S.

Guns and Violence In order to purchase a shotgun, rifle, or ammunition for a gun, in the United States one must be eighteen years of age. For any other types of firearms and ammunition, one must be twenty-one years old. The U.S. is prone to violence and particularly gun violence. We see this ma - nifest itself in a variety of ways throughout U.S. socie - ty, and many of these outcomes directly impact youth. Some youth are affected by one of their parents being incarcerated (if not themselves) due to gun violence, which is often exacerbated by the easy access of fire - arms. There is often a high probability that youth will be directly impacted by this gun violence. As such, youth in the U.S. must confront and grapple with the impacts of the culture of guns in ways that other youth in develo - ped economies do not have to worry about. Due to the increased economic strain associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, urban centers have especially seen rates of criminality increase, with a significant portion of this sur - ge being tied back to youth.

go through metal detectors and other forms of security in order to enter their school before the school day be - gins. It is important to note that violence also occurs in schools as well. School shootings have become a regu - lar occurrence in the United States. While terrifying for both students, educators, parents, and communities, there are still polarizing debates about gun rights and school safety. Since 2018, there have been 119 school shootings in the United States. Student and parent ad - vocacy groups are working to push for legislation that would increase gun control in the hopes that it will lower the rate of school shootings. Alcohol, Tobacco and Drugs In the United States, the culture of alcohol is quite dif - ferent from the culture of alcohol in many European countries and it is forbidden for younger people to drink. While the age when young people are allowed to drink alcohol in many countries in Europe is typically between 16 and 18, in the United States, one must be 21 years old in order to legally consume and purchase alcohol. In order to purchase cigarettes or other forms of tobacco, one must be 18 years old. While some high school stu -

Additionally, urban schools are more likely to have po - lice officers in their schools, as well as have students to


Youth in the USA

dents still find ways to drink and smoke to - bacco, it is not until college that is becomes much more common for young people to drink and smoke. However, increasingly, va - porizers (vapes) with flavored tobacco have become very popular for young people. Drug usage is common among young peo - ple in the United States. Everything from prescribed medications to marijuana and cocaine are becoming commonly used drugs. With the legalization of marijuana in many U.S. states, coupled with the increa - sed availability of vapes in stores, marijua - na is the en vogue drug of choice. However, there are many in-school and community programs that work to educate youth on the negative impacts of drug abuse. Youth Homelessness Each year, there are over four million youth and young adults who experience homel - essness, of which nearly one million are unaccompanied minors. This means that they are officially not part of a family or accompanied by a parent or guardian. On any given night, over forty thousand unac - companied youth ages thirteen to twenty- five are homeless. Many factors increase a young person’s odds of experiencing homel - essness. Demographic risk factors for beco - ming homeless include whether they are Hispanic or Black, are parenting a child, but are unmarried; or classified as LGBTQIA+. In particular gay youth are more than twice the risk of being homeless than their cisgender or heterosexual peers.

Each year, there are over four million youth and young adults who experience homelessness.

Youth homelessness is more common in low-income areas. The resources available for young homeless peo - ple vary by city and state. New York and California, for example, tends to have more shelters and resources for young people in this situation than places such as Lou - isiana. The resources towards youth homelessness are dependent upon how many government public services and non-profit organizations are in that particular area.



Framework and Structures in the Field of Youth Policy

The challenges of youth policy in the United States are derived from the lack of public and social servi - ces at the federal level compared to other countries, particularly countries in Europe. As a result of this, different states, cities, towns, and local communities have varied levels of programming and support for youth.


Youth in the USA

Stakeholders in Youth Policy There is no set federal agency on youth and in the United States. Instead, Youth is a cross-de - partmental issue, meaning various ministries in the United States also offer programs targe - ting youth, e. g. the U.S. Department of Labor or the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Thus, there is no uniform national youth policy in this form. Therefore, there is no holistic youth policy agenda. This is partly due to the federal constitution of the USA, which assigns different powers to the federal government and the states. The strong decentralization of political power is typical of U.S. politics. Consequently, state governments and local districts have extensive powers.

For the lack of a holistic youth policy agenda, programs for youth in the United States rely on a wide range of different policies and funding streams. This means that there can be incon - sistency related to what resources youth have access to and depends heavily on where they live. Youth on the east and west coast are likely to have more opportunities than their peers in the South or South-West. Additionally, the history and continuation of racism, classism, and sexism within the Uni - ted States has a profound impact on youth upward mobility. Amidst this, local community groups and youth activism continuously work to level the playing field and provide enriching opportunities for young people throughout the United States


Framework and Structures in the Field of Youth Policy

Youth welfare traditionally falls under state jurisdiction and each of the 50 states and approximately 3,000 coun - ties have their own complex systems in place. As a result, policies and practices at national, state, and local level are often very different in terms of funding and focus. By providing public funding and federal programs, the fede - ral government can, however, still influence state policy and set specific youth policy priorities. At the federal level, the U.S. Department of Health & Hu- man Services hast the highest budget allocated to youth programming. The Department is the government’s primary agency for planning, funding, and coordinating federal youth services. The affiliated Administration for Children and Families (ACF is responsible for federal programs that provide economic and social support to families, children, individuals, and communities, as well as foster care and adoption services for children with special needs. ACF administers more than 60 programs with a budget of more than USD 60 billion, making it the second largest agency within the Department of Health and Human Services. The Office of Regional Operations ,

a subdivision of ACF also acts as the interface between the Department and local governments with a total of 10 statewide regional offices. These regional offices are res - ponsible for implementing federal programs locally. Are - as of focus for the Office of Families and Youth Services , which is also part of the ACF, include preventing youth homelessness, teen pregnancy, and domestic violence. The Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs (IWGYP) has representatives from twenty-one federal agencies including the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Labor. This federal agency has many initiatives including programming on the prevention of underage drinking, fostering upward mobility for “op - portunity youth” (low-income or at-risk young people), bullying prevention, working with the children of incar - cerated parents, and more. On their website, IWGYP offers several tools and resources to help youth- serving organizations, cities or counties plan, implement and participate in programs for youth. They also provide news around youth policy, funding opportunities and new programs. Currently they provide information on

29 topics that may affect youth, such as bullying in schools, out-of-school youth work, substance use, sex/gen - der identity, mental health, juvenile delinquency, and community enga - gement. The majority of youth engagement, policy initiatives, and programming takes place at the state and local level and within a student’s school community or through non-profit or - ganizations. For example, several na - tional organizations have local chap - ters that work with youth in ways that are specific to their local con - texts. The Boys and Girls Club of Ame- rica has programming that aims to ensure that young people can reach their full potential. This includes promoting high school graduation, engaging Black, Latino, and female youth in Science, Technology, Engi - neering, and Math (STEM), building leadership skills, promoting mental and emotional health and wellness, and many other initiatives. Big Brot- hers and Big Sisters of America is ano - ther national organization with local


Youth in the USA

Topics in the Area of Children and Youth

chapters throughout the United States that facilitates mentor relationships with young people. The Children’s Defense Fund is a non-profit organization that has seven state offices across the United States that works to alle - viate child poverty, promote early childhood education, prevent gun violence among young people, and promote rehabilitative services for young people who enter the juvenile justice system. In addition to these national or - ganizations with local chapters, individual places have smaller more localized non-profit organizations that pro - mote services and initiatives for young people. The U.S. has a long tradition of addressing social issues through the philanthropic sector rather than the govern - ment (bottum-up vs. top-down). This affects national youth networks and associations as there is reluctance to organize in central umbrella. As a result, there are only a few truly central youth organizations in the U.S., but an almost innumerable number of small grassroots organizations and initiatives addressing youth.

There are many organizations working to provide an even playing ground for youth from all backgrounds. While there are some government departments that promote youth policy priorities, these departments tend to have strong partnerships with non-profit and philan - thropic entities. States are typically wholly autonomous in how they implement and execute their various child and youth policy programs, but the federal government is able to especially ensure the constitutional rights of program participants and has been known to impose fines and to sue states over derelict or poorly funded programing. Further, the philanthropic and business in - dustries increasingly are having an impact on how these programs function and, through the power of their own funding, are able to also have influence on state policies in a more indirect way. Typically, funding works through whatever granting institution sends funds to the states and the state entities are then able to make decisions on how they would like to disburse funds – typically via organizations applying for the funds.


Framework and Structures in the Field of Youth Policy

Positive Youth Development Positive Youth Development (PYD) is an intentional, pro - social, approach that engages youth within their com - munities, schools, organizations, peer groups, and fa - milies in a manner that is productive and constructive. It recognizes, utilizes, and enhances young people’s strengths, and promotes positive outcomes for young people by providing opportunities, fostering positive re - lationships, and furnishing the support needed to build on their leadership strengths. PYD has its origins in the field of prevention. In the past, prevention efforts typi - cally focused on single problems before they surfaced in youth, such as teen pregnancy, substance abuse, and ju - venile delinquency. There is now a belief that particular interventions that promote positive asset building and consider young people as a resource is a better strate - gy. As a result, the youth development field began ex - amining the role of resiliency – the protective factors in a young person’s environment – and how these factors could influence one’s ability to overcome adversity. PYD is a pre-emptive way of recognizing the worth of youth and empowering them to take more ownership over their life outcomes. Opportunity Youth While there are various national priorities that the government implements, one important initiative is the focus on opportunity youth. Young people who are bet - ween the ages of sixteen and twenty-four and who are not engaged in either school or the workforce are con - sidered “opportunity youth” by the federal government. There are around five million young people in the Uni - ted States that fall into this category. There have been several federal initiatives that have been developed in order to re-engage this group of young people in work and/or education. The Workforce Innovation and Oppor- tunity Act (WIOA) was developed by the Department of Labor and the Department of Education to develop work- force and education oriented programs. The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program was deve - loped by the Department of Health and Human Services to give cash assistance to families with children under the age of eighteen who are financially struggling. The United States Department of Agriculture has developed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to help the families that receive financial support for food from the government to receive job search and vocatio - nal training. Finally, the Federal Pell grant program gives need-based grants to low-income undergraduate stu - dents with the goal of promoting more accessibility for university education. These federal programs have been

created with the intention of fostering upward mobility among opportunity youth .

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and DREAM Act

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is a fede - ral immigration program created by the Department of Homeland Security in 2012 for youth who entered the United States illegally as children with their parents. DACA allows these children to obtain work permits and thus avoid deportation by the government. It also allows them to attend college in the state where they live. How - ever, the law does not provide a path to U.S. citizenship. It was preceded by the DREAM Act, a bill intended to do just that. It was first introduced in 2001 under former President Barack Obama but repeatedly failed in Con - gress. During the Trump administration, DACA measures were suspended until further notice. There are ongoing efforts under the Biden Administration to bring the pro - gram back to life. Further, measures to protect so-called Dreamers continue to be a topic of political debate. Bullying Prevention The United States Department of Health and Human Services has conducted research and compiled resour - ces with the goal of preventing bullying among young people. This department defines bullying as unwanted aggressive behavior among school-aged children whe - re there is a real or perceived power imbalance. They classify bullying into three categories: verbal, social, and physical. With the increase of the use of social media, phones, computers, and other digital devices among young people, cyberbullying has increasingly become a larger problem. This can entail sending harmful, mean, or false content about someone else on social media or with others in a way that causes embarrassment or humiliation. While the federal government has acknow - ledged and compiled resources on these problems, the - re is no federal law that addresses these problems and each state has addressed this differently. The majority of states and territories have both law and policy that addresses bullying while nine states and territories only have laws. There is a range regarding how bullying pre - vention is implemented from putting in place these laws and policies, to requiring districts and schools to develop their own regulations. Youth Involved with the Juvenile Justice System Some children and youth become involved with the juve - nile justice system because they are accused of commit - ting a delinquent or criminal act. Other youth come into


Youth in the USA

contact with the system for status offenses – actions that are illegal only because of a youth’s age – such as tru - ancy, underage drinking, and running away from home. Not all of these cases, however, are formally processed through the courts. During a single year, over two million youth under the age of eighteen are arrested in the Uni - ted States. Once a young person enters the juvenile jus - tice system, it is very hard for them to be able to access jobs and college education and it takes a very heavy toll on a young person’s mental and physical health. Additi - onally, the criminalization of young people to enter the juvenile justice system disproportionately affects Black youth and young people of color. There have been efforts to try to make more rehabilitati - ve programming for young people in the criminal justice system, including through youth court and restorative justice. In youth court, a young person’s student peers serve as the attorneys, jurors, and clerks in the court, al - lowing them to learn more about the court system, while also administering sentences that they believe are fair such as formal apologies or community service. There has also been increased efforts to promote restorative justice programming for young people in the juvenile ju - stice system. Restorative justice promotes an active dia - logue between the victim and the offender and a suppor -

D.A.R.E. Another important program for young people throug - hout the United States is the Drug Abuse Resistance Edu- cation program (D.A.R.E). This program brings facilita - tors into schools to teach about substance abuse and addiction prevention. The organization has a set cur - riculum for elementary, middle, and high school stu - dents. There are over 1,700 D.A.R.E programs throug - hout the United States where facilitators work with schools to teach their curriculum on safety, substance abuse, conflict management, opioids, nicotine, mental health, and much more. Youth Participation / Youth Councils A Youth Council is a group of young people working to - ward the common purpose of developing their individual leadership skills to strengthen communities through vo - lunteer service and increased communication with mu - nicipal leaders, such as Mayors. Youth develop and lead initiatives with the support of adult mentors. A Mayor’s Youth Council is more than just a service club because members also determine to train and involve their peers in service leadership. Youth Councils also provide valu - able insight on issues affecting young people and the community at large. They can represent cities, commu -

tive space where everyone can collectively decide how best to proceed in a way that promotes accountabi - lity without criminalizing a young person.


Framework and Structures in the Field of Youth Policy

nities, regions, schools, organizations, and states. Each Council typically has fifteen to twenty-five members.

young people at the local level. Council members are ex - pected to advocate on these issues and initiatives and recommend avenues by which to improve the issue – such as with reference to school safety, anti-discrimina - tion or raising funds for a new soccer field. They also act as a communication link between the local government and the young people of their community. Finally, they promote and recognize the abilities, accomplishments, and contributions of young people in their communities, and organize and participate in service-learning projects that benefit a community. A Small Sampling of Youth Policy by State While every state has different levels and extents of youth policy and programming, a few states will show the range of youth policy that can exist by state. In gene - ral, social policies are implemented at the state and local government level, as opposed to the national level. Individual cities and towns, as well as localized non-profit organizations can often fill the gap of youth support and programming when it does not exist at the state or fe - deral level.

Youth Councils work to coordinate, advise, and activa - te peers and elders in issues affecting young people. The Council acts as a positive, influential, and energetic voice in affecting policies, and solutions to local pro - blems. Youth Councils are found in many segments of society. To be successful, a Youth Council must be ca - refully thought out in everything from its purpose to its role in city government, to its membership. Every city is unique and the Youth Council must be tailored to fit a community’s needs. Young people, who are typically in high school, are al - lowed to join the Youth Councils. Further, because the Youth Councils are usually tied to municipal leaders, they are required to reside in the city or town where they resi - de. Youth who are selected to join the Youth Council also usually must maintain a certain grade point average, for those still in school, and come to the Council through recommendations from school and community leaders.

Youth Councils typically provide ongoing and direct in - put on government policies and practices that may affect


Youth in the USA

The state of Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice also works with youth who have entered the juvenile justice system. There is programming in the Office of Juvenile Justice that focuses on harm reduction associated with the negati - ve impacts of drug use. Additionally, this office makes recommendations for treatment for young people in this system. However, the emphasis is on more punitive programs as opposed to restorative justice, financial re - sources and scholarships, and well-being programs. This demonstrates the stark difference in priorities that exist from state to state. Wisconsin Wisconsin, in the Mid-West of the United States, de - monstrates another set of priorities that can exist at the state level. Wisconsin has worked to promote a commu - nity-based juvenile justice system that puts resources towards youth counseling, assessment and treatment, community service, and teen court. There is also a Bu- reau of Refugee Programs that helps with refugee resett - lement in the state of Wisconsin that includes interpreta - tion and translation, transportation, mental and physical health services, and employment services. There are also state programs that support foster children, as well as policy to support Native American tribes and families through the Wisconsin Indian Child Welfare Act .

New York New York State has very strong social services compa - red to many states within the United States. In terms of youth policy, the New York State Office of Children and Family Services works to promote youth and fami - ly well-being. The programming of this office works to promote equal access to quality services, individualized treatment that respects gender and sexual orientation, and cultural, physical, social, emotional and linguistic needs, and care in environments to promote healthy development. The state works with other communities to provide funding for more localized, non-profit youth development programs, runaway and homeless youth programs, scholarships and financial aid for studying, support for youth in foster care, and other enrichment services. There are also state programs that provide support for the college admissions and financial aid pro - cesses for youth. Louisiana Louisiana has fewer state government youth programs. Louisiana Youth for Excellence (LYFE) is one initiative that promotes positive youth development and builds aware - ness of consequences for at-risk behaviors with vulnera - ble youth. This includes children in foster care, children in poverty, and children in juvenile detention centers.


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