Male teen with his mentor



Creating Sustainable Career Pathways For Disconnected Youth

The Center For Promise Reflects

Release date:

December 12, 2018


Over the past several years the Center for Promise (CfP) has explored how society can better support young people in graduating from high school and transitioning to college and careers. This retrospective is a look-back at the Center’s work over the past five years, focusing on young people’s lived experiences and examining the salience of relationships with caring and encouraging adults and peers to every young person’s healthy development. 

By combining systematic, social science methodologies and analysis with the authentic voices of young people, our hope is that this work provides a more accurate depiction of who young people who disconnect from school and work are and what they can achieve. 

Theoretical Foundation
Theoretical Foundation

The Center’s research studies are predicated on the understanding that all children and youth (and their families) have strengths that can propel them to educational, vocational, and overall life success. By taking a youth-centered approach—which involves engaging young people directly about their lives, assets, and needs—we can learn:

  1. Who young people who leave high school without graduating are, 
  2. What supports these young people need to get back on positive pathways, and 
  3. How to provide these supports to all young people, with a focus on connecting young people with caring and encouraging adults.

Two theoretical frameworks undergird this research:

Supportive Youth Systems and Positive Youth Development

Young people experience positive developmental outcomes when they are embedded in environments (filled with people, culture, institutions, and public policies) that are aligned with young people’s strengths and needs. 

Webs of Support

Equally important, young people thrive in all aspects of their lives and are buffered from the effects of adversity when they have access to a web of supportive relationships. Importantly, within this web, young people benefit from having someone they can turn to no matter what, which we refer to as an “anchoring relationship.”

Webs of Support
Key Themes
Key Themes

Several key themes have emerged from the Center’s research:

Why Youth Leave School: Adversity, Responsibility, and Strength

Youth who leave school often experienced overwhelming adversity in their lives, which force them to make choices between school and exigent circumstances. Thus, their strengths are often directed toward non-school goals that are more salient to their lives, such as supporting a family member in need or navigating a dearth of food and housing.

Relationships Are Critical to Encouraging Every Young Person’s Healthy Development

For most youth not in education, employment or training (also known as NEET youth), everyday interactions with friends, family, staff in re-engagement programs, and people within the community can provide them with the supports that can buffer against the adversities they face. The Center’s early research led them to develop the web of supports framework, which draws from relationship, social support, social capital, and social network theories and studies to provide a more holistic way of considering relationships.

Workforce Programs Can Facilitate and Optimize Re-engagement for NEET Youth

The Center’s studies found several promising elements common to programs and initiatives that optimize youth re-engagement:

  • A relationships-first approach
  • Educational experiences that fit young people’s lives
  • Work readiness strategies and practical work experience
  • Comprehensive support services

Before making decisions, understand who your community’s young people are, drawing on multiple sources of data that include hearing from youth directly. 

Federal and foundation grant programs should require that grantees understand the lived experiences of the youth they serve.

Focus on external adversity to unleash young people’s innate potential.

By resolving adversities, youth are able to set and persevere along positive and productive educational and vocational pathways. 

Double down on relationships.

Youth need a web of supportive relationships with adults across the different contexts of a young person’s life. These adults should provide young people with the emotional, instrumental, informational, and appraisal supports that we all need to thrive.

Join the Conversation
Join the Conversation

Please join the conversation by using the hashtag #Pathways2Progress and download the partner and community social media toolkit.

Help spread the word about Creating Sustainable Career Pathways for Disconnected Youth (just click to launch and edit the tweet below in Twitter): 

Authors & Sponsors
Authors & Sponsors
College & Career Career Pathways
The 5 Promises

The 5 Promises represent conditions children need to achieve adult success. The collective work of the Alliance involves keeping these promises to America’s youth. This article relates to the promises highlighted below:

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