Education officials and nonprofit service providers said the state legislature, the business community, and even voters are needed to help fix a statewide crisis of children and young adults who are considered at-risk or disconnected.

“We’re taxpayers — how do we put our votes where our mouths are on these issues?” Emily Pallin, executive director of the Connecticut Rise Network, said during a panel Thursday. “Or policy makers, how do we start to change and reshape the landscape?” 

The panel was the third held by the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities to discuss Connecticut’s Unspoken Crisis: At-Risk & Disconnected Youth, a report commissioned by Dalio Education and released earlier this month. 

The report said that 19% of Connecticut’s youth, ages 14-26, are either at-risk of not graduating on time or are considered disconnected.


Dalio Education co-CEO Andrew Ferguson said 119,000 Connecticut youth are at-risk or disconnected, meaning they are not on-track to graduate high school or they’ve dropped out of school with no diploma or equivalent certificate, have no job or are in jail. Severe disconnection is when people meet all three criteria.

“We chose that title because yes, we do have a crisis in this state and it’s largely unseen and unspoken,” Ferguson said about the report.

But Kate Dias, president of the Connecticut Education Association, said teachers have known about the problem for years.

“There is zero in this report that surprised me, that I would have predicted as an outcome,” she said.

All of the speakers on the panel in Torrington said the issue is getting the public to care about the problem and to push for a solution.

“When they begin to understand that, they’ll care. When they care, there’ll be a will to act,” Ferguson said.

He estimated the state spends $400 million a year on disconnected youth in the form of Medicaid and other assistance and on the cost to operate prisons. Ferguson also estimated Connecticut is losing out on $350 million in economic impact from disconnected youth who aren’t gainfully employed.

Dias and nonprofit service providers who work with at-risk youth said Connecticut’s education system does not provide enough support to students.

Marc Donald, executive director of the Regional Youth Adult Social Action Partnership, said the system waits too long to identify kids who need help.

Intervention doesn’t start until kids have attendance issues and other problems in middle school or later, he said. 

“Why are these young people stopping coming to school early?” Donald asked. 

Dias, meanwhile, said the state prioritizes standardized testing scores when evaluating districts instead of rewarding schools who get students internships, apprenticeships, and other career development opportunities. 

Connecticut Business and Industry Association President and CEO Chris DiPentima agreed more needs to be done to help make disconnected youth aware of the state’s robust workforce training programs. 

He also said he’s been pushing businesses to revise their job requirements to focus on skills instead of education. 

“Here we have 115,000 people, 96,000 job openings,” he said. “Wow, wouldn’t it be great to marry the two.” 

But Forge City Works Executive Director Ben Dubow said many of those programs are short and focus on job-related skills.

He said those programs need to be expanded to offer support for youth who have experienced trauma, helping them develop the emotional skills also needed to succeed in the workplace.

“A lot of those programs are leaving kids and youth after 10 weeks, 12 weeks, 14 weeks and they’re not addressing the core issues,” Dubow said.

Torrington Mayor Elinor Carbone, meanwhile, said public officials need to be more involved in helping keep students on track. She has a program that regularly invites students to her office to talk about issues in the schools.

“It’s something small, but the fact that these 21 kids get to sit in the mayor’s office once a month and have this conversation and then see something happen with this information is really important,” she said. 

She said that program is easier to do in a small town, though, Many of the speakers also said changes will require more state funding, because some of the programs put in place since the COVID pandemic are about to lose funding from the American Rescue Plan Act. 

“That keeps me up at night because we have to fill these gaps,” Donald said.