Every summer since 2013, CASES has provided summer youth employment services for hundreds of young people. Facilitated by the New York City’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), this is a chance for youth ages 14-24 to learn skills, build work experience, and earn money. These tenets are especially important for building a successful future: all CASES’ SYEP participants are involved in the criminal justice, shelter, and/or child welfare systems. However, due to the COVID-19 crisis, the City canceled SYEP this summer—and CASES’ staff have come together to make sure our participants still have this critical opportunity for summer work.
Since 2016, CASES’ Pretrial Services team has served young adults ages 16-26 who, due to New York State bail reform, now remain in the community while awaiting trial instead of being detained at Rikers Island. One key component of the Pretrial Services program is providing young people with referrals to education, employment, and other services, such as SYEP.
“SYEP serves so many purposes for our youth. It keeps them productively occupied as well as gives them income, which helps them and their families, which leads to a reduction in rearrest.” said Teri Goldstein, a Pretrial Services Team Leader in Brooklyn. “We started thinking, ‘What can we do, given the timeline that we have, that will help fill this need?’ ”
Though many job-readiness programs continue to operate across the city, few offer the kind of financial incentive (paid weekly wages) provided by SYEP. This financial incentive can be critical for engaging youth. Recognizing the need, CASES’ Brooklyn and Manhattan Pretrial Teams began to develop a plan for the summer both to get youth paid and prepared for the workforce.
Starting this June, CASES’ Pretrial Services case coordinators can now offer monetary incentives to youth ages 16-24 through a summer initiative that matches these youth with job-readiness programming at organizations such as Get Out, Stay Out; exalt; and The Door. The program, which can serve up to 60 participants, will give participants a Chromebook upon completing an intake assessment at the referral organization—to make sure they can adequately complete remote coursework—and a weekly stipend for four weeks.
“It’s difficult to keep young people engaged with internal motivation alone,” said Erica Murphy, CASES’ Manhattan Pretrial Services Team Leader. “We’re hoping that, by offering financial incentives, we can get them through the first four weeks of engagement, and after that they’ll continue with the programming because they’ve built those relationships with the referral organization’s staff.”
Participants will still check in with their CASES’ case coordinators once a week and participate in programming around financial literacy, interviewing, fitness, and nutrition along with attending court appointments. Teri and Erica are also putting together a CASES staff speaker series so participants can learn more about the services available across CASES along with perspectives on career and employment pathways. [To be a part of the Speaker Series, see below.] These supplements will help participants complete a job-readiness checklist—which will ensure youth have basics like a résumé and professional interview attire—that they’ll submit at the end of the four weeks to attend graduation and receive a final incentive.
“I want our participants to feel so much more ready to apply for jobs when social distancing ends. That they’ll be more prepared to walk into the world of work than they would’ve because SYEP was suspended,” Teri said.
Erica and Teri are hoping the immediate benefits go beyond short-term financial incentives, giving youth—and their families—a positive focus as opposed to the ongoing stress of the pandemic.
“There’s a lot of anxiety and worry, a lot of depressive symptoms, a lot of malaise and ennui, a lot of ‘I’m not doing anything. I’m not productive,’” Erica said. “There’s still a lot of pressure on the young folks from parents and grandparents. Our program hopefully will help by giving them something to focus on, something productive, and make living through this pandemic a little easier.”
Want to volunteer to host a Speaker Series session and talk about what you do at CASES, the programs you work for, or any other topic you think might be helpful for Pretrial Services youth? Please contact Teri at firstname.lastname@example.org.