Beating the NEET (No Employment, Education or Training) for Youth and Young Adults

by Stars Training Academy   0 Comments

TAY Beating NEETHelping young people with serious mental health conditions get engaged with employment, education and training activities is one of the most important goal areas, as well as one of the most challenging. If we hope to support TAY members to escape a lifetime of poverty, disability and marginalization – we must do a better job of assisting them to get connected to school and job opportunities. TAY programs need to prominently offer robust career development services to help these young people access meaningful roles and enhance their resiliency. This means we also have to overcome the “soft bigotry of low expectations” that is far too common among many mental health providers.

Many TAY programs and systems of care focus on helping young people with serious mental health conditions apply and qualify for SSI and SSDI benefits. This is done with all good intentions and benevolence. But this process can frequently short circuit the youths’ job explorations before they begin (I’ve heard reports that less than 1% of youth who go on SSI come off of it). Erik Erikson, the well-known developmental psychologist, wrote eloquently about the psychosocial stage of identity formation – thought to occur during the TAY age range. Being deemed “completely and totally disabled” at this critical period can have a profound impact on emerging adults’ identity and sense of their self and future. We must develop a framework that enables impoverished youth to both meet their survival needs and continues to encourage their growth and maturation as students and workers.

TAY programs may devote much of their time, attention and resources to symptom reduction and responding to crises. This is understandable, as many of these youth and young adults present with severe functional impairments and troubling behaviors. But TAY staff, young people with mental health conditions and their families are susceptible to losing sight of the recovery goals of attaining normative, developmentally appropriate roles and skills. Providers may describe this approach as first we will treat and stabilize the young person, then we’ll move on to quality of life goals such as employment, education and housing. The recovery model suggests that the opposite approach can be effective – that first we engage, expose and expect youth and young adults to learn how to effectively participate in real world contexts, then they are more likely to work on managing symptoms, developing skills and regulating behaviors. The less time youth spend in mental health clinics and the more they are introduced to real world environments, the better.

A few recommendations on how we can “beat the NEET” and improve educational and employment outcomes for youth and young adults with serious mental health conditions.

  • Ensure that all youth have access to adequate supports, web-based resources and mentoring that enables them to complete resumes, practice interviews and navigate registration and financial aid at nearby schools.
  • Regularly expose youth and young adults to the world of work. Arrange for job and school tours. Many TAY have had little opportunity to see the many ways that people can make a good living. This helps plant seeds of motivation and future plans.
  • Reframe the youths’ decision to pursue SSI/SSDI as obtaining temporary financial supports while they develop the needed experience, education and skills to succeed at adult roles. Strongly convey the message that they are not “completely and totally disabled” for life.
  • Assess all the work performed at mental health facilities and programs (mentoring, clerical, landscaping, IT, etc…) for opportunities to leverage and create opportunities for job shadows, internships and paid work experiences. If we don’t identify ways to train and hire our young members – why should the rest of the community?
  • Develop strong partnerships and linkages to community resources such as community colleges (especially career technology certificate courses), Department of Rehabilitation, Workforce Development, and apprenticeships.
  • Consider “re-branding” TAY mental health programs as Career Centers for at-risk youth. Immerse youth in an expectant culture where they see their peers involved in continuous opportunities to learn and practice self- management skills and functional repertoires. TAY programs should strive to become on ramps for challenged youth towards meaningful roles and adequate incomes, rather than exit ramps to lives of disability and poverty.

What do you think?

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