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Unconnected young people are speaking out

The crisis of isolated youth in Connecticut has since received widespread attention major research study was released by Dalio education in October.

That study found that 119,000 residents aged 14 to 26 were disconnected from school or work, or were at risk of becoming so.

The final report, due out in a few weeks, will include the voices of many of the 74 young people interviewed for the project. It will reveal their challenges, the obstacles they face and the ways they overcame them.

It focuses on five areas: education, criminal justice, child welfare, lack of health care and housing issues. Interviews were held with 74 young people.

“The young people share their experiences living in Connecticut and deprived of education and employment, and the deep struggles of how to overcome them when the systems are stacked against them,” said Andrew Ferguson, co-CEO of Dalio educationthe philanthropy that sponsored the report.

“They also shared their incredible ambitions and hopes for the future, their goals and their dreams, and how they hope to achieve that potential,” he said.

(The quotes from the young people in this story come from the report of Community Sciencewho conducted the interviews.)

Education

The study found that schools were often the first time students came into contact with police through skipping school or getting into fights, known as the school-to-prison pipeline.

A 26-year-old black man from Stamford recounted an incident in which he poked a teacher with a pencil during a fight:

“I had been in a fight and I had to use the pencil… I ended up poking the teacher (accidentally) because it looked like she was trying to stop the fight and was getting in the way. And they arrested me for poking her with a pencil. I was only nine. I was in fourth grade… They took me to (a) juvenile detention center (detention center).”

A 23-year-old white woman from Hartford said she kicked a security guard off a schoolyard because the security guard made her feel uncomfortable:

“They called me into the office and said… ‘Did you kick this lady?’ The school sued me because she worked for them.”

healthcare

Some young people talked about not having access to it Husky health, the state’s Medicaid program for youth. However, many were aware of it and how it has recently been extended to undocumented youth. A 16-year-old Latino youth from Danbury said:

“When I got here (to the United States) with my family, we went to a hospital… And it was kind of expensive to be honest, but after about two months we found out about (HUSKY) insurance.”

Housing

Many of the people interviewed talked about how difficult it was to find and maintain affordable housing. A 25-year-old Latina woman from Hartford said:

“I went through hell (to find an apartment). Like hell. And I still don’t even have it. For example, the apartment costs $1,000 and you have to do a gazillion things to get an apartment… all kinds of background checks and you have to pay all kinds of fees. And it’s crazy. How do you want $1,000 in rent plus a $75 background check, plus a $50 application fee.

Trauma

In addition to the five topics from the research, the interviewees also discussed topics such as trauma. They talked about how life was spiraling out of control and how they felt helpless, the report said.

An 18-year-old African American man from Norwalk said:

“I’ve seen so much happen… To this day I could see that nothing would shock me because I’ve seen so much happen. Like you, anyone can name it all… and I’ve actually seen it happen to people with my eyes… It just made me not afraid of anything.”

A 23-year-old black woman from Hartford said:

“They just start shooting, that’s what they do here… I love living in Hartford. It’s okay for me. But because I’m so used to being on the street, it doesn’t bother me.”

Some young people found ways to deal with the violence on the streets. A 23-year-old black woman from Bridgeport said:

“I had a real anger problem. So as I got older, in eighth grade, I would talk to the principal or go talk to the teachers… I only had a few teachers who really understood me.

A 21-year-old Latino young man from Hartford spoke about a Hartford-based nonprofit that supports youth in education and employment:

“The staff of Our piece of the pieI consider them my family because they have given me many opportunities that have helped me throughout my life.”

The first report, released in October 2023, revealed something Chris Lyddydirector of partnerships at Dalio Education, calls “Connecticut’s unspoken crisis.”

“We haven’t really been able to understand this group of young people, and they’ve fallen off our radar as people become more and more disconnected and further away from that prosocial support.”

Dalio Education, the Greenwich-based philanthropy founded by Barbara Dalio, works with schools, educators, nonprofits and communities to support education in Connecticut.

The problem is not new, although it has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, said Samantha Miller, its portfolio director Connecticut Opportunity Project.

Data Walk in the Capitol

On Monday, April 29, from 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM, Dalio Education will offer a “Data Walk” exhibit in Room 310 of the State Capitol. Stations will present the issues and root causes of youth connection.

Members of the Youth Community Advisory Group and the Community Science Research Team will be present, along with the Opportunity Project and Dalio teams, to speak with invited stakeholders.

Of the 119,000 people in the spotlight — 19% of the state’s 615,000 14- to 26-year-olds — 63,000 were considered “disconnected” and 51,000 were considered “moderately disconnected.” The rest are considered ‘at risk’. One in three high school students is at risk of not graduating, the report said.

2,000 young people locked up

Arrests and incarcerations have declined in recent years, but in 2021 there were 10,000 arrests and 2,000 youth in jails and prisons, the report said.

The impact of the decoupling is enormous. According to the report, there are economic costs of $750 million, between $400 million in government spending and $350 in lost tax revenue for the unemployed.

Supporting youth would help fill 90,000 empty jobs in the state and increase Connecticut’s gross domestic product by $5 billion or more, the report said.

The research for the report was conducted through one-on-one interviews with 74 youth, ranging from 30 minutes to two hours, in seven cities: Bridgeport, New Haven, Hartford, Norwalk, Danbury, Waterbury and Stamford.

Involvement with young people

“We have made a very conscious effort to engage with young people who are disconnected from school, disconnected from work or social support, and often these are the young people who are the most reluctant to take advantage of the resources that are available . because of mistrust, because of other experiences they’ve had,” Miller said.

“The other really important part of this research is understanding the goals and aspirations that young people have for themselves,” she said. “These young people are young people who often face many challenges and barriers, and yet they have goals and ambitions about what they want to see for themselves in the future.”

The focus on cities resulted in “an overwhelming representation of African American and Latino youth in our data sample, as well as men,” Miller said.

However, she added, “The BCG report confirms that (in) every city, every town in Connecticut, there are young people who are both experiencing and at risk of becoming disconnected.

Lack of support

“One of the things that remains unsaid that we want to highlight is that … our safety net systems that are designed to support our young people are not supporting our young people in the ways they are intended to,” Miller said. “And that became quite clear from the research and the conversations with young people.”

Ramellea Menns, 21, of East Hartford, is a member of a Community Advisory Group created to provide input into the study and which has been meeting since June 2023. She is a member of Our Piece of the Pie.

Menns said the report’s conclusions made sense to her.

“All the topics we wrote about, I have a story or I have someone whose story I know behind it, and I can literally talk about it,” she said. “I don’t really need to talk about my story specifically because I know a lot of people who have had it ten times worse than me.

“Being in this program and experiencing what I went through and seeing people go through what they went through made me feel good about myself knowing that I can go out and help other people with their lifestyle and can make life better for them too. Well,’ she said.

City by city approach

In response to the research, the Connecticut Conference of Congregations launched the 119K Commission for at-risk youth and disconnected youthconsisting of mayors and first select men and women, who will meet to tackle the problems.

“Their end goal is to develop a strategy plan to halve the number of young people at risk of being disconnected,” Lyddy said, with a target date of September 30.

Miller said the interviews show that young people are resilient despite the obstacles they face.

“Our disconnected youth are not disconnected because they woke up and decided they didn’t want to be connected to social services, employment or education,” Miller said. “These are young people who have faced tremendous trauma and challenges. And even in the midst of the challenges they have faced… they are young people who have goals and ambitions for themselves.”

Ed Stannard can be reached at [email protected].