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October 2022Vol. 23, No. 8Young People's Lived Experiences With Safety Net Programs

A report from the Urban Institute, Young People's Lived Experiences With Safety Net Programs: Insights From Young People and Youth-Serving Organizations, details the second phase of a research project that examines how young people interact with safety net programs. The first phase of research dealt with key barriers and available supports, and the second phase took a deeper look at those issues through the voices of those with lived experience so policymakers, agencies, and other stakeholders can utilize their wisdom and change systems to better meet their needs.

The following are key challenges young people face in accessing safety net programs:

  • Programs not reflecting young people's needs
  • Difficulty in knowing what benefits exist and how to access them
  • Complicated application processes
  • Lack of recognition of the developmental- and life-stage realities of young people
  • Insufficient acknowledgment of mental health issues

The following are key actions that young people and staff identified to address those challenges:

  • Simplify access and provide navigational support.
  • Empower and support young people in decision-making.
  • Replace punitive approaches with support and minimized burden.
  • Make fundamental structural changes in how young people are supported.

In addition to these challenges, young people with diverse identities (e.g., Black, Latino, Indigenous) face significant inequities in accessing the resources and opportunities they need to create a stable foundation for their future. The report provides context for the multiple ways structural racism impacts diverse youth and families and shapes the structure of safety net programs—including how these programs frequently do not address the root of inequities and barriers to success.

To learn more about the earlier phases of this project and how safety net programs can help youth meet their basic needs, explore the Urban Institute's Young People and the Safety Net project page