Rhode Island has been recognized as a national leader in supporting the well-being and success of youth and young adults who are transitioning to adulthood. According to a new report by KIDS COUNT, a local education-focused nonprofit, Rhode Island ranked first in the nation in 2021 for having the smallest percentage of youth ages 16 to 19 who were neither in school nor working. The state also ranked fifth nationally for the same indicator among youth ages 16 to 24.
The benefits of staying connected to education and employment
The report highlighted the personal and societal benefits of keeping youth connected to school and work, such as improved health outcomes, higher earnings, reduced poverty, and lower crime rates. The report also noted that youth who are disconnected from education and employment face multiple challenges and barriers, such as physical and mental health conditions, child-welfare or juvenile-justice involvement, lack of access to health care, unstable housing, family responsibilities, and lack of affordable or reliable transportation.
The report emphasized the importance of providing youth with the resources and opportunities they need to smoothly transition to adulthood, such as quality education, career guidance, mentoring, counseling, and social support.
The challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on youth
The report acknowledged the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the well-being and prospects of youth, especially those who are Black, Indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC), who experience higher rates of unemployment and disconnection from education. The report also cited data from the Rhode Island Department of Education that showed a decline in the percentage of high school students who received the help they needed when feeling anxious or depressed, from 33% in 2019 to 22% in 2021.
The report recommended that policymakers, educators, and community partners work together to address the needs and challenges of youth during and after the pandemic, such as ensuring access to mental health services, providing academic and social-emotional support, expanding online and hybrid learning options, and creating pathways to postsecondary education and career opportunities.
The initiatives and programs that support youth in Rhode Island
The report highlighted some of the initiatives and programs that have been implemented in Rhode Island to support youth in their transition to adulthood, such as:
- The Voluntary Extension of Care (VEC) program, which allows youth in foster care ages 18 to 21 the option of continuing to receive services and support from the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF).
- The Rhode Island Teen Institute (RITI), which is a statewide leadership and prevention program that targets high school-aged peer leaders and provides training in individual/community advocacy, decision-making, and interpersonal/leadership skill development.
- The Rhode Island Promise Scholarship, which covers the cost of tuition and fees for eligible students who enroll at the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) within six months of graduating high school or obtaining a GED.
- The PrepareRI initiative, which aims to prepare all Rhode Island youth for success in college and career by expanding access to high-quality career and technical education, dual and concurrent enrollment, work-based learning, and industry credentials.
The report concluded by stating that Rhode Island has made significant progress in keeping youth connected to school and work, but there is still room for improvement and innovation. The report urged stakeholders to continue to invest in and collaborate on programs and policies that support the well-being and success of youth and young adults in the state.