Families play critical roles in the transitions of their children into adulthood, when much focus is usually centered around the roles families play in the early learning process, namely academic preparedness.
In the early developmental years, parents support their children’s introduction to formal learning settings. They help children transition to learning at school, prepare and help them adjust to the expectations of the classroom. But what about life beyond the classroom? Adulthood. Supporting youth and young adults during the transition years for parents and families, is equally, if not more, important.
From November, 2019 to March, 2020 , FREDLA and Portland State University conducted a national survey of families with a youth or young adult between the ages of 16 – 25 years with behavioral health needs. 221 families responded to the survey. Results from the survey, outlined below, provides important and insightful data. It can help guide policy, practices, and alter the way we see the roles of family and the ways they support the transition into adulthood.
LIVING WITH FAMILY
Many youth and young adults lived with family or friends the majority of the time during their transition years. Living situations also changed as young adults gained independence and resources. More than 30% of families with youth over 18 reported their youth had experienced one or more episodes of homelessness.
In addition to housing, family members provided financial support in numerous ways including groceries, clothing, rent and health insurance and medication costs. Families also reported paying for tuition, cell phones, recreation, car insurance and gas. Over 70% reported financial support for groceries and clothing across all age groups.
FINANCIAL IMPACT ON FAMILY
Family members faced difficult decisions to provide financial support needed for their child. More than 40% of family members said that they reduced work or quit to make time for helping their young adult. 33% indicated that they had to withdraw funds from their retirement savings, and 10% reported taking a second home mortgage to support the young person’s needs.
Non-financial support took many forms including participating in crisis planning, connecting with service providers, transportation to and from school or work, assistance with job applications, apartment searches and helping schedule appointments.
Families were a consistent source of support for their young adults in crisis situations. Across all age groups, more than 50% of families indicated the young adult ‘almost always’ or ‘often’ contacted them when they were in crisis.
Families had mixed experiences related to confidentiality after the youth turned 18. Care coordination and communication may work best when the young adults give permission for providers to share certain information with family.
MOST HELPFUL SUPPORTS FOR FAMILIES
Families expressed that parent peer support and connections to other families in similar situations were crucial to their own well-being as their youth transitioned into adulthood. They found support in many places such as family-run organizations, educational groups, therapists and community organizations.
EXPERIENCES NAVIGATING SYSTEMS
Families often felt they were ‘on their own’ to navigate the transition years after youth turned 18. Many reported a lack of information about services, programming and little to no planning for transitions. For some, this resulted in emergency room visits, involvement with police or courts and costly evaluations.
STRATEGIES TO STRENGTHEN FAMILY ENGAGEMENT AND SUPPORTS DURING TRANSITION YEARS
- Families should be acknowledged as a key asset to youth and to providers throughout the transition period.
- Providers should engage, educate and build the capacity of youth and their families regarding transition beginning at the minimum, one year before they turn 18.
- Providers should initiate communication and conversations with young adults AND their family members about releases of information, HIPAA and confidentiality to ensure family members have access and the ability to voice their concerns as needed.
- Providers should partner with family organizations to integrate family support into their programs for youth transitioning to adulthood.
Providing support for transitioning youth can be more challenging than it needs to be. When planning and designing services and programs, being informed by information and insights such as these, practitioners and providers can implement strategies that are more proactive than reactive. Meeting families where they are is the first step in offering responsive services that address unique family and youth needs, while building on their existing strengths.
We should plan early supports and services in anticipation of commonly shared challenges, with a keen awareness of the many different forms that these challenges manifest in the lives of families with transitioning youth. Partnering with families means information-sharing, building social capital and collaborative supports, while also building capacity of their transitioning youth.
Let this information help guide you as you support and engage youth and their families. The more you know, the more you share and the more you can empower others with what you know. Families play significant roles in supporting their children’s transitions into adulthood.