By: Laura St.Pierre, Staff Writer
Policymaking, community-building initiatives, and evaluations of youth-serving programs have embraced quantitative research data, however, they lack qualitative substance. The lived experiences of youth within these systems are incredibly valuable information that can help accelerate these programs’ success.
The University of Southern Maine’s Cutler Institute recently published a 34-page report titled, “Transitioning From Youth to Adulthood: Mapping the Impact of Systems and Places on Youth Pathways.” It is a collection of stories from 35 young people, age 14 to 24, who experienced homelessness, educational pushout, child welfare, and youth justice involvement, or interaction with the mental or behavioral healthcare system.
This study used an arts-based narrative methodology called journey mapping, which allowed researchers to gain deep insights into these young people’s lives and stories. The Arts-based narrative method proved successful and allowed them to map their journeys from childhood to adulthood in Maine by expressing themselves non-verbally through drawing, music, or film.
Erica King, one of the authors of the report, said, “The maps and images young people bravely shared, mirror the adverse childhood and community experiences that we know are determinants of social and economic wellbeing. Centering youth voices and expertise can only improve the opportunity landscape that leads to better safety and belonging for all Maine communities.”
The researchers engaged in afterschool suspension diversion programs, homeless drop-in centers, LGBTQ+ youth groups, and the Long Creek Youth Development Center to recruit system-impacted youth. Then, by working closely with these community-based and system partners, 35 journey maps were made throughout nine journey mapping sessions.
The study specifically aimed to answer the question: How have places and interactions with systems such as child welfare, children’s mental or behavioral healthcare, education, justice, and homelessness shaped the pathways of Maine youth as they transition into adulthood?
This is the latest report to be released by the Place Matters project, which is located at the Cutler Institute at the Muskie School of Public Service. The report itself was authored by Danielle Layton, Erica King, Jillian Foley, and Sophia McMullan of the Justice Policy Program within USM’s Cutler Institute.
The report suggests establishing more opportunities for young people to be involved with decisions made by the systems that serve them to ensure policies that are passed promote belonging and equity.
“At the heart of this report are the narratives of young people whose childhoods’ have been impacted by poverty, family separation, challenges with school, and access to health care, alongside discrimination and othering,” King said.
You can read the full report here.