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International Journal of Emergency Mental Health and Human Resilience
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Engaging or Disengaging: A Review of Social Services for Disengaged Youth in Shanghai, China

YUAN Rui*

Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Social Work, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

*Corresponding Author:
YUAN Rui
Postdoctoral Fellow
Department of Social Work
The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
E-mail: [email protected] (or) [email protected]

 

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Abstract

Disengaged youth, or community youth, refers to unemployed adolescents and young people who do not pursue any further studies in the 16-25 year age bracket (Political Committee of CPC Shanghai, 2003). In 2014, 36.7% of the global unemployed were working-age unemployed youth (International Labor Organization, 2015). The youth unemployment rate of 16% in China is substantially higher than the overall unemployment rate of 4% (Dasgupta & Huynh, 2012). In Shanghai, nearly 10% of the junior middle school graduates, usually aged 16-17, stop pursuing any further education in high schools or technical schools (Shanghai Statistical Bureau, 2015). The overall amount of disengaged youth reached 75,000 in 2005, and it continues to grow on a 20% basis annually (Chen, Zhou, & Tian, 2006).

Keywords

Disengaged Youth; Youth Development; Chinese Youth.

Background

Disengaged youth, or community youth, refers to unemployed adolescents and young people who do not pursue any further studies in the 16-25 year age bracket (Political Committee of CPC Shanghai, 2003). In 2014, 36.7% of the global unemployed were working-age unemployed youth (International Labor Organization, 2015). The youth unemployment rate of 16% in China is substantially higher than the overall unemployment rate of 4% (Dasgupta & Huynh, 2012). In Shanghai, nearly 10% of the junior middle school graduates, usually aged 16-17, stop pursuing any further education in high schools or technical schools (Shanghai Statistical Bureau, 2015). The overall amount of disengaged youth reached 75,000 in 2005, and it continues to grow on a 20% basis annually (Chen, Zhou, & Tian, 2006).

Disengaged youth are faced with more obstacles in their transition to adulthood, such as low educational levels, underqualified professional skills, and an increasingly demanding job market (Chen, 2010; Li, 2006; Su, 2007). A series of factors are identified to be associated with their disadvantaged positions. Most of them are from single-parent or low-income families, and grow up under unsupportive family environment (Kang & Li, 2010). Apart from a scarcity of resources from family, disengaged young people also experience multiple forms of exclusion from the wider social contexts, including the rigid educational system, limited social networks, and strong social bias (Chen, 2010; Ding 2008; Xu, 2007). Therefore, they are often confined to menial, low-prestige and parttime jobs, which hardly meet up their expectation. As a result, they easily quit those jobs and remain economically dependent on their parents. Previous studies suggest that disengaged youth often suffer from mental problems such as depression, anxiety, and internet addiction (Cheng-Lai & Dorcas, 2011; Du, 2010). They also engage in a range of risk-taking behaviors such as shoplifting, physical fighting, and substance abuse (Jiang, 2006; Li, 2006; Xia, 2014).

Existing Services for Disengaged Youth in Shanghai

Shanghai is one of the most rapidly developing cities in mainland China. Youth-serving programs for disengaged youth can be classified into youth training schemes, community schools, and rectification services (Xia, 2014). Shanghai government encourages disengaged youth to take part in schemes such as Spread Wings under Sunlight. A technical certificate and two types of vocational qualifications would be accredited to participants after their completion of the training courses. Ever since 2004, this scheme has trained 4,399 disengaged youth with a remarkable employment rate of 73.76% (Spread Wings under Sunlight, 2010). The other two programs, community schools and rectification services are community-based. While community schools offer technical training courses and recreational activities, social work agencies are featured with clinical services. Take Shanghai Sunshine Community Youth Affairs Center for example. With branches located in each community, this Center provides prevention and promotion programs that address issues such as internet addiction, delinquency, and crime. Characterized by rectification services, it also offers ameliorative services such as counseling, quality building and skill training.

Critiques and Implications

Though the aforementioned services have been running over a decade, the amount of disengaged youth in Shanghai remains disproportionately little changed (Ding, F., 2008; Ding, J., 2008; Li, 2008; Xu, 2007). Evidence suggests that those programs’ ineffectiveness maybe due to the deficit perspective, the institutional design, and many operational problems.

First, current services are mostly deficit-based. Disengaged youth are considered as broken, in need of psychological repair, or problems to be managed (Roth, Brooks-Gunn, Murray, & Foster, 1998), rather than resources to be developed (Roth & Brooks-Gunn, 2003a, b). Services are thereby taking a top-down approach, which places youth workers and service users on a less equal basis. This ultimately marginalizes the young people and jeopardizes their positive development (Chen, 2010 Fan, 2007; Su, 2007).

Second, service providers are challenged by multiple institutional factors. 1) Targeted training is largely missing from the existing activities held in community schools, which offers courses to all residents in the community no matter old or young, employed or unemployed (Xu, 2007). 2) There is a lack of systematic coordination among different community stakeholders to enhance the sustainability of the programs and other youth-supportive services. Existing programs are generally funded and run by different institutions or departments, making the consultation process even more bureaucratic and less efficient (Chen, 2010; Ding, 2008; Ding, 2008). 3) Insufficient funding remains to be a serious predicament faced by service providers. Unsecured financial resources exert negative impact on poor communities. Since local programs are primarily sponsored by local funding sources, poor communities are less likely to provide adequate youth development programs compared with those more affluent areas (Quinn, 1999).

Third, it is also noteworthy to point out several issues encountered during the program implementation, including: 1) low participation rate—possibly due to the not so needs-based activities and insufficient promotion; 2) inadequate district and school infrastructure to support activities; 3) limited rigorous investigations into the programs’ effectiveness and efficiency; 4) lack of professional personnel who are held accountable; as well as 5) lack of whole-person and individualized educational or vocational planning. The existing community’s services primarily focus on employment or re-employment, yet ignore participants’ emotional, cognitive, and medical needs (Chen, 2010; Ding, 2008).

As Pittman and colleagues (2000) once put, “problem free is not fully prepared”. In order to better engage adolescents and young people who are disengaged from education or work, it is conducive to apply a more strength-based approach that emphasizes the acceptance of youth preparation and development, not just problem prevention and deterrence. It is supported by a solid and growing empirical base indicating that well-designed,

Well-implemented and youth development programming can positively influence a diverse array of social, health, and academic outcomes, and reduce cognitive and behavioral problems (Catalano et al., 2004). Emerging programs launched by social work agencies aims to foster a three-level intervention system which covers primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention (Xia, 2014). This initiative potentially provides participants with developmentally rich contexts where relationships form and opportunities for growth in multiple areas proliferate. Disengaged youth would feel supported and empowered through the enhancement of not only adolescents’ skills, but also their confidence in themselves and their future, characteristics, and connections to other people and institutions by creating environments. Moreover, since this systematic approach requires collaboration among multiple entities, careful sufficient coordination and regular evaluation are thereby critical also viable in the service delivery process (Kang & Li, 2010).

References

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Chen, Y.J., Zhou, J.J., &Tian, B.C. (2006).The blue book:Work on disengaged youth in Shanghai, 2003-2005. Shanghai: East China Polytechnic University.

Chen, W.Y. (2010). Study on services for urban unemployed and out-of-school youth:A case of a street in Pudong,Shanghai.Unpublished manuscript.Shanghai: Fudan University.

Cheng-Lai, A., &Dorcas, A. (2011).Learning and psychological difficulties among non-engaged youth in Hong Kong.International Journal on Disability and Human Development, 10(3), 235-240.

Dasgupta, S., & Huynh, P. (2012).Regional economic and labor market developments.International Labor Organization Global employment trends 2012 (pp. 45-81). Geneva: International Labor Office.

Ding, F. (2008). The community management strategy of urban community idle youth: Acase study of X neighborhood, Hongkou District of Shanghai. Unpublished manuscripts.Shanghai: East China Normal University.

Ding, J. (2008). Management on community youth in China: A case in Pudong New District.Unpublished manuscript.Shanghai: Fudan University.

Du, Y.F. (2010).Promoting community youth’s change, growth, and development by strength-based case management.Journal of Science and Technology, 24, 32-33.

Fan, Z.H. (2007). High-risk groups in community care: Theory and practice. Journal of East China University of Science and Technology (Social Sciences), 2, 24-27.

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Jiang, X.F. (2006). Systematic construction on crime prevention and reduction among community youth in Shanghai.Issues on Juvenile Crimes and Delinquency, 1, 27-29.

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Pittman, K.J., Irby, M., & Ferber, T. (2000).Unfinished business: Furtherreflections on a decade of promoting youth development. InPublic/Private Ventures (ed). Youth Development: Issues,Challenges, and Directions. Philadelphia: Public/Private Ventures,17-64.

Political Committee of CPC Shanghai. (2003). Establishing a system of crime prevention and reduction.

Quinn, J. (1999). Where need meets opportunity: youth development programs for early teen. The Future of Children, 9(2), 96-116.

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Roth, J. L., &Brooks-Gunn, J. (2003b). What exactly is a youth development program? Answersfrom research and practice.Applied Developmental Science, 7, 94-111.

Roth, J. L.,Brooks-Gunn, J., Murray, L.,& Foster,W. (1998).Promoting healthy adolescents: Synthesis of youth development program evaluations.Journal of Research on Adolescence,8, 423-459.

Shanghai Statistical Bureau (2015). Shanghai Statistical Yearbook. Retrieved from http://www.statssh.gov.cn/data/toTjnj.xhtml?y=2015e.

Spread Wings under Sunlight. (2010).Achievement on employment rate.Retrieved from http://www.why.com.cn/epublish/node32916/node32918/userobject7ai253899.html.

Su, P. (2007). Strategies for educational problems of unemployed and out-of-school youth.Unpublished manuscript.Nanjing: Nanjing Normal University.

Xia, K.J. (2014). Working with community youth: Evidence from Shanghai.Juvenile Delinquency Prevention Research, 1, 13-16.

Xu, J.Y. (2007). The educational needs of unemployed youth.Unpublished manuscript.Shanghai: East China Normal University.

 

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