Youth who receive special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) and especially young adults of transition age, should be involved in planning for life after high school as early as possible and no later than age 16. Transition services should stem from the individual youth’s needs and strengths, ensuring that planning takes into account his or her interests, preferences, and desires for the future.
Opportunity youth are young people who are between the ages of 16 to 24 years old and are disconnected from school and work. This developmental time period, also referred to as emerging adulthood, has great potential for individual growth through exploring independence and life opportunities. It is a critical window of opportunity for youth and young adults to gain an education and/or training that would “…provide the foundation for their occupational trajectories during the rest of their adulthood.” This can include developing knowledge, skills, and character traits that are important for opportunity youth’s career pathway development.
Life circumstances, such as where someone lives or income level, can disrupt youth’s ability to explore and pursue different careers. Opportunity youth often face hardships, but they also report having feelings of responsibility for their futures, having educational and career goals, and being optimistic about achieving their goals. To most effectively reach out to opportunity youth, it is important to understand who is disconnected; why they are disconnected; how to authentically engage opportunity youth as leaders; and what programming and resources are currently available to individuals, parents/guardians, and organizations that work with opportunity youth.
Maximizing Federal Funds to Support Opportunity Youth (PDF, 27 pages)
This report from the Aspen Forum for Community Solutions summarizes major federal funding streams resources that can help support opportunity youth. Additionally, the document reports on the difficulties in accessing these resources and impressions on methods to simplify the process. An executive summary (PDF, 4 pages) of the report is also available.
Opportunity Youth Playbook: A Guide to Reconnecting Boys and Young Men of Color to Education and Employment
Developed by the Opportunity Youth Network, this playbook highlights promising practices, strategies, and resources to help communities support boys and young men of color who are opportunity youth. It considers their distinct talents and needs and uplifts strategies beyond those targeted to boys and young men of color more generally.
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Research links early leadership with increased self-efficacy and suggests that leadership can help youth to develop decision making and interpersonal skills that support successes in the workforce and adulthood. In addition, young leaders tend to be more involved in their communities, and have lower dropout rates than their peers. Youth leaders also show considerable benefits for their communities, providing valuable insight into the needs and interests of young people
Statistics reflecting the number of youth suffering from mental health, substance abuse, and co-occurring disorders highlight the necessity for schools, families, support staff, and communities to work together to develop targeted, coordinated, and comprehensive transition plans for young people with a history of mental health needs and/or substance abuse.
Nearly 30,000 youth aged out of foster care in Fiscal Year 2009, which represents nine percent of the young people involved in the foster care system that year. This transition can be challenging for youth, especially youth who have grown up in the child welfare system.
Research has demonstrated that as many as one in five children/youth have a diagnosable mental health disorder. Read about how coordination between public service agencies can improve treatment for these youth.
Civic engagement has the potential to empower young adults, increase their self-determination, and give them the skills and self-confidence they need to enter the workforce. Read about one youth’s experience in AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC).
Many Federal departments and agencies offer comprehensive services for opportunity youth.