Vera’s Center on Youth Justice (CYJ) is coordinating Youth Futures, a multi-site program aimed at improving the long-term employment prospects of at-risk and justice-involved youth living in, or returning to, high-crime, high-poverty communities in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New Orleans. With funding from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration (ETA) and through partnerships with the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership, the Coalition for Responsible Community Development, and the Youth Empowerment Project, Youth Futures prepares program participants for success in the labor market by providing comprehensive, individualized case management services linked to workforce development and educational interventions, supports, and training programs.

Nine hundred at-risk and justice-involved young people aged 14 and over have been enrolled in Youth Futures since its kick-off in January 2014. While the program is tailored to respond to the needs of each city, all partner organizations offer the following program components within a culture of safety, service, and life-long learning:

  • workforce development: a five-part approach incorporating career assessments and planning; soft-skill development; digital literacy training; and Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs that lead to industry-recognized certifications and workforce attachment interventions, such as internships and job placements;
  • education: an individualized and accelerated pathway to reach graduation or diploma equivalency using academic assessments and planning, robust academic supports, and effective teaching strategies, including contextual and blended learning approaches and literacy training;
  • case management: comprehensive, intensive case management that identifies youth needs and develops individualized supports;
  • mentoring: one-on-one and small group mentoring consistent with the evidence-based standards of recruitment, screening, training, matching, monitoring and support, and closure;
  • restorative justice: service learning projects that embrace the three goals of the Balanced and Restorative Justice model: accountability, public safety, and competency;
  • community-wide efforts to reduce crime and violence: collaboration with communities and system officials to assess and reduce community violence; and
  • post-program support and follow-up: regular contact to continue for at least nine months after program completion to ensure program participants remain employed and in school.

As the coordinator for Youth Futures, CYJ provides implementation assistance to the sites, administers grant funds, and monitors program progress.

Why Youth Futures?

In an economy that demands a highly sophisticated and educated workforce, youth in the juvenile justice system often struggle academically and lack both the soft and technical skills needed to compete for a shrinking pool of jobs. By some estimates, more than half of young people in juvenile detention have not completed the eighth grade, and two-thirds of those leaving formal custody do not return to school. Meanwhile, the vast majority of today’s careers require both a high school diploma or equivalent and some postsecondary training.

System-involved youth often struggle in numerous areas, including education, employment, health care, mental health, substance abuse, peer and family relations, and housing. These struggles impair their ability to participate in the workforce. Their needs are further complicated when they are removed from their community and social supports during the key developmental phase of adolescence and placed in a facility (prison).

To learn more, download the Youth Futures Initiative brochure.

Featured Expert

Project Director, Center on Youth Justice