Category Archives: Transition to Adulthood

Raising Our ‘Standards for Teaching and Learning’

In his State of the Union Address, President Obama declared, “To prepare for the jobs of tomorrow, our commitment to skills and education has to start earlier. We’ve convinced nearly every State in the country to raise their standards for teaching and learning – the first time that’s happened in a generation.” He then presented three aims for raising our standards in education: effective teachers, high school completion, and affordable college tuition.

Effective Teachers. President Obama emphasized the role of teachers in the lives of their students. He called on states to extend resources to schools for rewarding the most effective teachers. The Future of Children volume Excellence in the Classroom explains that high quality education is crucial for the wellbeing of children and our nation. Thus, advocates recommend that teacher-improvement policies ultimately be examined in terms of their influence on student performance.

High School Completion. To increase high school completion rates, President Obama called on states to require all students to stay in school until they graduate or turn 18. The Future of Children volume America’s High Schools explains that dropping out of high school places burdens on students themselves and on society. Students experience lower earnings as well as higher risk of unemployment and health issues. Society faces higher crime rates and greater spending on public assistance. Successful dropout prevention programs focus on family outreach and resolving the issues students face outside of school.

Affordable College Tuition. To get more young people through college, President Obama urged Congress to extend the tuition tax credit, he called on states to make higher education more of a priority, and he asked colleges and universities to keep tuition costs down. The Future of Children volume Transition to Adulthood highlights successful programs for increasing college enrollment and completion. As indicated in a previous Future of Children blog, programs designed to simplify the financial aid application process have been found to increase college enrollment for families with low to moderate incomes.

As indicated in The Future of Children, several policies and programs have been shown to effectively address the challenges discussed by President Obama, while continued evaluation should examine the effects of other programs. Through a research-based emphasis on effective teachers, high school completion, and affordable college tuition, we can raise our nation’s standards for teaching and learning and provide a brighter future for our children.

Incarceration and the Family

National Public Radio’s Tell Me More recently featured a discussion on a surprising trend in the US criminal justice system – the number of offenders under adult correctional supervision has begun to decline. While the incarceration rate in 2010 was still about seven times the average in Western Europe, the number under court supervision dropped by 1.3 percent. Experts attribute the decline to a realization among policymakers that there are more effective and affordable ways to treat nonviolent offenders.

About 2.7 million people under age 18, representing about 1 in 28 children in the US, had a parent in jail or prison in 2010, according to a Pew Research study. As noted in the Future of Children issue on Fragile Families, in many cases there are negative outcomes for families when parents are incarcerated for a nonviolent offense. Formerly incarcerated fathers have lower earnings, are less likely to work, and are more likely to experience homelessness. Their children are more likely to face material hardship and residential moves, have contact with the foster care system, show aggressive behavior, and are less likely to live with both biological parents. Findings suggest that these negative effects extend beyond parent-child separation and are limited to families who don’t report domestic violence, suggesting that incarceration may have positive outcomes where domestic violence has occurred.

As state budgets face continual strains, finding new ways to treat nonviolent offenders may be a winning solution for both states and families. However, all new strategies must be carefully examined before implementation.

In the Future of Children Fragile Families volume, researchers argue that any proposed reform should first be assessed in terms of its consequences for families. Intensive community supervision is recommended, along with drug treatment where necessary, and a system that allows for a timely response to probation and parole violations without a disproportionately severe prison time. For reducing the risk of returning to prison, the volume recommends reentry programs to provide transitional services for education and training, medical treatment, housing, and job placement. Research links such programs to lower recidivism and improved employment for ex-prisoners. For more discussion on alternatives to incarceration and policy recommendations to reduce recidivism, see the Future of Children’s issues on Juvenile Justice, the Transition to Adulthood, and Fragile Families.

Recently Released, Now Welcome Home?

The Future of Children blog recently touched on issues faced by previously incarcerated young men and their families. As noted in the Future of Children volume on Fragile Families, incarceration places additional strain on fathers by reducing earnings, compromising health, and increasing the likelihood of family breakup.

In addition to these barriers to re-entry, the latest research brief from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study indicates that previously incarcerated fathers are also at greater risk of experiencing housing insecurity such as homelessness, eviction, and being forced to move in with someone else due to financial constraints. A lack of stable housing complicates matters for recently released fathers seeking employment to support their families. Applicants often need a residential address and contact information when applying for a job. They may also be at greater risk of returning to jail if driven to sleep in public or loiter.

What can be done to help recently incarcerated young fathers get back on their feet?

The Fragile Families research brief recommends making educational and work programs accessible to prisoners prior to and upon release. Increased earnings may help ex-prisoners better maintain stable housing. As highlighted in an earlier Future of Children blog, some policies promote the hiring of ex-offenders by prohibiting questions about prior convictions from initial job interviews. Earlier this month, National Public Radio highlighted programs that seek to connect ex-offenders to medical treatment and housing. For more recommendations for policies and programs to help recently incarcerated young men, see the Future of Children issues on the Transition to Adulthood and Fragile Families.

Disadvantaged Young Men and Families

“The statistics are sobering: more than 23 million children, or 1 out of every 3, live apart from their biological fathers; males are now less likely than females to graduate from high school and to enter and graduate from college; there is long-term decline in the percentage of adult males who have jobs; and only about 60 percent of young minority males have a job. The nation is in a crisis regarding the development and economic productivity of young males, especially disadvantaged males.” (Brookings Institution)

On December 5, the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution hosted an event focused on young disadvantaged males in the United States and the intervention programs that might best serve them.

Using research from a recent issue of The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, edited by Timothy Smeeding, Irwin Garfinkel, and Ron Mincy, speakers showed that few teenage and young adult males benefited from the economic recovery of 2003-2007 and men under thirty were more adversely affected than any other demographic group by the Great Recession.

Broadly speaking, men have historically had the upper hand in the U.S. economy. But with the recent decline in jobs, including manufacturing and construction jobs, young men now find it more difficult to earn enough to support a family than they did during the mid-1970s. (The Future of Children: Transition to Adulthood) And by age 30, between sixty eight and seventy five percent of young men in the United States, with only a high school degree or less, are fathers.

Many of these fathers are also incarcerated, which puts additional strain on families. Incarceration rates for men have skyrocketed since the 1980s. As Irv Garfinkel noted at the Brookings event, the U.S. is incarcerating far too many young men, particularly those of color. Although white, non-Hispanic males account for about seventy eight percent of all men over 25 in the U.S., less than one-third of prisoners are white men. Imprisonment diminishes the earnings of adult men, compromises their health, reduces familial resources, and contributes to family breakup. It also adds to the deficits of poor children, thus ensuring that the effects of imprisonment on inequality are transferred intergenerationally. Perversely, incarceration has its most corrosive effects on families whose fathers were involved in neither domestic violence nor violent crime before being imprisoned. (The Future of Children: Fragile Families)

The evidence shows that, with proper funding and implementation, a surprising number of programs could help reduce the problems that afflict disadvantaged young males. Some of these include:

1.) Career Academies: career development and academic achievement programs

2.) The National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program

3.) Expanded Work Programs, including the Child Support Work Program

For more details on these programs, which were featured at the Brookings event, click here.

The Future of Children issues on Transition to Adulthood and Fragile Families also provide additional research on disadvantaged young men and their families.