Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Last In the Youth Homelessness Series: Amanda's Reflections

I got involved with DCAYA during my first couple of months as a metro area couch surfer in early 2007. I stayed involved, for the most part, up until the day I was packing the last of my belongings (seriously, I called in for my last Youth Homelessness Committee meeting while the movers were loading up my stuff). I arrived in DC, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to pursue my passion of working to end youth homelessness. The DC advocate and provider community was just starting to come together around solidifying and improving services for homeless youth.

Truth be told, at the time, I had no idea that basically nobody knew anything about homeless youth in America. Through my volunteer work with DCAYA, I learned about the struggles faced by providers and often assumed to be faced by young people. As a solution-oriented person, I was über concerned about developing more housing programs, since this seemed to be the biggest challenge before us.

It wasn’t until 2010 that we finally began work on finding out what young people REALLY need to achieve stability. At first, we decided it'd be best to see what else people are doing around the country. I, the research nerd, dug up promising models to adapt to anecdotal stories and internal research from local providers. Things began moving full-steam ahead when the DC Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) caught wind of our work. Just as Maggie Riden (now Senior Policy Analyst) came on board, the ICH asked us to make the youth plan an official part of the citywide plan to end homelessness.

Maggie went straight to work organizing committee meetings, planning retreats, and co-chairing the newly-formed ICH Youth Subcommittee. Our meetings dug into the depths of provider experiences and ideas around the current state of homeless youth services in DC as well as ideas for the future. The great thing about planning, though, is that it helps you see where the holes are. Although we were working to develop the next great idea to help DC government understand – and act on – our urgency, we realized that we needed to take a step back and answer some very serious questions.

Who are DC's homeless youth? We have fewer than 200 beds, but have served over 1400 youth. Where do they go when they're not in a program? What issues do they face, given their lack of housing? How did they become homeless in the first place?

The ICH Youth Homelessness Subcommittee knew we needed to answer these questions and decided that the next step had to be developing and implementing a study to get answers Fortunately, the DCAYA Youth Homelessness committee was already planning to execute the same type of study. I was hired to help facilitate the study and develop the report. I co-trained volunteers, sorted out logistics, interviewed young people, dug up local and national stats, compared research to the results of our own survey, and worked with Maggie to tease out the meaning of it all.

Aside from the obvious benefit to the community of homeless youth and service providers in DC and beyond, this effort has had a major impact on all involved. For me, being part of it has shaped who I am as a social worker, helped me develop and refine my professional goals, and inspired me to take my work to the next level by developing meaningful research on how to best help homeless youth build the lives they want to live. I am ever grateful for my 4 1/2-year journey with DCAYA and am beyond excited to know that I played a part in helping this study become a reality.

But it's not over! I look forward to seeing DC’s leadership use our report to see to the success of DC's most vulnerable youth. Many of these young people will one day be our leaders; it's up to us to make sure they have every opportunity to do so.

Amanda Michelle Jones, former DCAYA Graduate Research Assistant, is currently working towards a PhD in Social Work in Chicago, IL. You can keep up with her doctoral shenanigans at www.AmandaMichelleJones.com

More information on the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates and "From the Streets to Stability" can be accessed on dc-aya.org.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Message from Senior Policy Analyst Maggie Riden

Last week we released the findings of our youth homelessness study, From the streets to stability: A study of youth homelessness in the District of Columbia. This study is a ground breaking effort for the District in achieving a depth of understanding on the factors that lead our youth to homelessness, keep them from achieving stability and opportunities our community can leverage to propel them into successful and independent adulthood.

Over the next year you can expect to see a number of white papers and policy briefs that examine the findings laid out in our report through a prescriptive policy lens. These will be disseminated through our website and this blog; but before we get there, we wanted to take a minute and really discuss the importance of starting policy efforts in this arena with a solid basis in relevant data.

Before this research effort, little to no concrete information was available related to the issue of youth homelessness- in terms of the size of the population, or the unique needs and characteristics of homeless youth. Understanding the size and characteristics of the homeless youth population is critical for the planning and development of programs to prevent and end youth homelessness, as well as for evaluating the effectiveness of these interventions.

We wanted to know about personal and family history, educational status, employment rates and/or barriers to employment, health issues and perhaps most importantly- youth input on the services they need to become successful self sufficient community members. This type of information was critical because homeless youth are very different from their adult counterparts. They have, as the data reinforces, been subject to numerous systems failures that have resulted in educational gaps that hinder their successful entry into the workforce. They lack many of the interpersonal and independent living skills necessary to negotiate living on their own. Realizing this, we worked with numerous partners and experts to develop a survey that we hoped could gather information that would help guide policy decisions across all the agencies and systems that can play a role in both prevention and stabilization.

The information we gathered on all these elements is rich and complex. It speaks to the many ways in which we as a community- meaning families, neighbors, schools, community organizations and government agencies- can collaborate more effectively and approach youth homelessness through a preventive mindset. It highlights the ways in which homeless services must be tailored to youth- in terms of length of stay and scope of services needed at the various stages of development. Finally it reinforces the numerous and varied partnerships needed (at both the provider and policy development levels) to realize lasting self sufficiency for a homeless young person.

Finally, we hope the findings of this study, and the insights youth revealed while participating challenge our assumptions about homeless youth. Please forgive the cliché because in this instance it’s very true- these young people are not expecting a hand out, just a hand up. Time and again our information shows that these youth have a vision for their future and are highly aware of the work they must do to achieve it. They are ripe with possibility, but in need of guidance and support to realize their full potential.

In the coming months DCAYA will continue to bring you additional reflections on the findings and opportunities to participate in ongoing discussions with community partners, policy makers and other stakeholders to translate the findings of this study into actionable policy recommendations. In the meantime, take a moment to check out the findings and don’t hesitate to reach out with questions, thoughts or feedback.

Maggie Riden can be reached by email (maggie@dc-aya.org) or by phone at the DCAYA offices at 202.587.0616

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Blogpost from Justin

This week's blogpost is from Justin, a local 24 year who identifies as "homeless". Please take some time to read his story as we reflect on the issue of youth homelessness during the month of November (and year round!).

The night was beyond cold. It must have been in the low twenties. I didn’t have a watch, but I think it was around two o’clock. I couldn’t go back to sleep. I had about four blankets and I was still shivering. I woke up and waited by the edge of the park for the sun to rise. From were I was I could usually see the large clock on the church across the street. It felt like a lifetime, but I was able to make it. The sunrise still gives me hope to this day.

The sun warmed me just enough to walk down to So Others Might Eat (SOME). I went there to eat breakfast. It’s good to know there are places to go for food, plus there, I could stay out of the cold for a while. It was Monday, so I had to wait till noon for the library to open. The blankets kept me somewhat warm, despite the wind. Once the library opened I knew I would be fine for at least eight hours.

The library seemed to be the only place I could fine solace. I would just read books on everything, even the encyclopedia. Religion and politics were my favorites, but I loved to read books on science and psychology as well. The reading was a diversion from the cold, the lack of food and sleep, and even the people who would bother me at night. I loved reading about activists the most. It impressed me how they were able to make so many positive changes, even when it seemed like the whole world was against them. It let me know that I could get out of my situation in due time.

Once night hit and the library closed I went back outside. I headed towards the food van from Martha’s Table. They would give out food (like) sandwiches and warm soup. Walking back to the park wasn’t fun at all. The cold wind made sleeping almost impossible. I couldn’t stand the people constantly bothering me; men and women of all ages always asking me if I wanted to make some money, or if I was looking for a friend. They acted like they cared, but all they wanted was to exploit me. At least I would see less of them during the colder months. After it finally got quiet I went back to sleep, and my whole day would start once again.

This was my life for quite some time. I had already been in an out of homelessness for a couple of years. I spent a lot of time figuring out what I wanted to do, till I decided I wanted to help people. It was arduous though. Not too many places want to hire a homeless person or even offer an internship. So I spent my time helping with different political actions and other project when I could. I still wished I could help in the community and still make a living, however. I still had hope that I could work things out.

Things got better when I finally decided to do something I rarely even do to this day, trust others. Over time I would hear about different opportunities from people I had met. Eventually I was able to get an opportunity with an organization called the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates (DCAYA). They were conducting the first ever survey of homeless youth in the District. It sounded like a great way to help in the community and get my foot in the door in the non-profit world. Helping with the survey helped me a great deal with myself. It gave me hope that others were really trying to make a difference in Washington DC. All volunteers and workers treated me like a person, not a homeless ethnically ambiguous youth. Also I was able to learn and see just how bad it is for homeless youth in Washington DC. It hurts to know that so many other youth are facing the challenges of being homeless. But at least I have hope that with help from others, they can get out of their situations.

Big thanks to Justin for sharing his story and for his involvement with the 2011 Homeless and Unstably Housed Youth Study!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

New Blog Series!

November is YOUTH HOMELESSNESS AWARENESS MONTH! In honor of this occurrence, DCAYA is lucky enough to have a string of guest bloggers from our membership to report on the many different facets of youth homelessness that exist in the District.

This week Covenant House's own Dan Brannen shares his opinion on the importance of investing in young people's transition into adulthood. Special thanks to Dan for guest blogging!

Transition to Adulthood

Transition: the passage of one form, state, style or place to another.

No other time in life is as tumultuous or life-defining as our transition into adulthood. The facts are clear. Neurologists now know that the brain is in its final transformation from age 18-25. Psychologists and sociologists know that our ability to relate to each other and the world around us is put to the test during this epic stage of our life. Finally, in today’s economic climate, it does not take an economist to posit that it is not until we have delved into the ‘world of work’ for several years and enhanced our intellectual acumen (through some form of advanced, post-secondary education and training) that we will really be competitive in today’s marketplace. Furthermore, most Americans aren’t living “independently” (clearly not financially) until around the age of 25. Healthy, well-educated young people coming from nurturing families often don’t live on their own until their mid-20s and yet we expect young people who have encountered incredible barriers, often from their earliest stages of development to go it alone the day they hit 18. In the midst of Homeless Youth Awareness month (November), I would like to call attention to the need to better invest in young people throughout their transition into adulthood, which extends long after age 18.

Those of us who have spent our adult lives serving young people, know that it is, indeed, a marathon of service that we have embarked upon. Young people from all walks of life need support throughout their transition into adulthood, but children and youth who have spent their early formative years without necessary services and supports are especially needing of investment when it comes to their transition to life as an adult.

So, where does that leave us? It leaves us at a fork in the road. Do we as a society, of individuals, communities, institutions and political parties, invest in our young people in a continuous, comprehensive manner despite hitting the magical age of 18 ?Or, do we turn the blind eye and pretend that these young people are somehow become prepared for the rigors of adult life absent the necessary supports and services?

I began this discourse with a definition of transition. Why? For us folks in the youth/young adult world, transition doesn’t mean short-term, or not permanent (such as a term like transitional housing might suggest). Instead, transition means a time that requires extra support. So, my answer is this – if we take the time, use our patience and extend our resources (including financial ones) in a compassionate way toward teens who are transitioning into adulthood, especially those who struggle the most or who find themselves homeless, then we can truly change the dysfunctional trajectory of a young life and prevent what might otherwise be a lifetime of tragedy as an adult.

So on the eve of the release of the “Homeless Youth Report”, I answer a resounding “Yes!”, we need to invest in our young people until age 25…at least until then J.

Dan Brannen

Executive Director

Covenant House Washington

Stay Tuned for more exciting guest blogs from DCAYA's member orgs throughout the month of November!

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Strength in Numbers

This week's blog post is a letter to our members and allies from DCAYA's Interim Executive Director Katherine Morrison, inviting them to DCAYA's General Membership Meeting on November 09, 2011:

Every nonprofit Executive Director could work 24 hours a day and still not feel caught up, which makes any time spent on an activity not directly related to organizational survival seem irrelevant.

I’d like to make the case that attending DCAYA’s general membership meeting the morning of November 9 does not fall into that category. As we approach the 2012 advocacy season we once again face a situation of increasing demand for the services that support young people here in the District. However, the tough budget climate we witnessed last year has not improved and the 2012 advocacy season will be another hard-fought battle that will require an all hands on deck approach from youth advocates, community members and youth themselves.

In that spirit, please join us on November 9th to discuss our advocacy agenda for the coming season in our core issue areas of out-of-school time, youth workforce development and youth homelessness. Your input is essential to ensurethe strength of the DCAYA coalition.

At the general membership meeting we will also seek your thoughts on the future of the DCAYA – both the short-term the characteristics needed in a new Executive Director, and our longer-term strategic plan.

An investment of two hours of your time on Wednesday, November 9 (10:00am – 12:00pm at the Martin Luther King Library, 901 G Street Room A-10) means a stronger voice for DC youth and youth-serving organizations in 2012 and years to come.

I look forward to meeting representatives of all the DCAYA member organizations. If you can’t attend on November 9 please share your thoughts on our draft advocacy agendas (to be sent later this week) with one of our staff or with me at

I’m proud to have been asked to serve at the DCAYA’s Interim Executive Director and want to work with you to ensure that all DC youth have the opportunity to lead healthy and productive lives.

See you on November 9!


Katherine Morrison is the Interim Executive Director of the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates. More information on Katherine and her work with DCAYA is available at dc-aya.org.

To RSVP to the November 09th meeting you may do so by clicking here or by emailing Jamie@dc-aya.org.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Blog Nationally, Fund Locally!

Since the launch of the Huffington Post's Impact section (as well as HuffPost DC) we sure have been reading HuffPo a bit more here at the DCAYA offices! HuffPo Impact traditionally covers issues like homelessness, volunteering, and philanthropy, but this week the bloggers chose also to feature a slideshow of organizations that help underserved young people. The slideshow featured a ranking of organizations from Philanthropedia, a website which rates non-profits for philanthropic donors.Philanthropedia offers up some great information about at-risk youth on the national level and the stats are certainly worth sharing with our devoted "Youth-Friendly DC" readers!

For instance: " In 2000, more than 4 million youth between the ages 16-24 were neither working nor in school and 25% are estimated to be parents."

Another great piece of information: "Each year, more than 20,000 teens leave the foster-care system with little transitional support."

Lastly, according to Philanthropedia's research, the U.S. population of 16-24 year olds is expected to grow at an above-average rate over the next decade, which means the problems that we see with at-risk youth and young adults from this age group are likely to become even more wide spread if the federal government, along with states and localities do not take some concerted action.

According to Philanthropedia's website, their focus on at-risk youth grew out of the belief that "few funders fund at-risk youth programs because many believe they can make a bigger impact funding children during the early childhood development stages." This is certainly something DCAYA and the direct service community experience here in DC when it comes to funding opportunities for youth, but being the optimistic youth advocates we are, DCAYA does not believe it has to be that way!

Two recent research reports highlight areas where both private philanthropy and public funding sources could positively affect the lives of at-risk, disconnected and disenfranchised young people right here in our own backyard. "Ripe for the Picking: Opportunities for Private Investment to Affect Disconnected Youth in Washington DC" and the recently released Brookings paper titled "Strengthening Career and Educational Pathways for DC Youth" offer up funding ideas, creative strategies and policy recommendations to alleviate the dismal situations that many of DC's young people face. While DCAYA and Brookings DO NOT rank programs operating here in the District, we do give some great examples of high quality programs that in addition to the list of national organizations Philanthropedia provides would be ideal targets for private investment.

Through targeted investment, the philanthropic and private funding community have a key window of opportunity to enhance outcomes for individual youth while also strengthening the social and economic health of the District in the long term. They also have a unique opportunity to blaze a trail when it comes to investing in youth and young adults. We certainly aren't saying that investments made in areas like early childhood are bad (far from!), but funders (be they private or public sources of funding) MUST include youth and young adults that have fallen through the cracks of previous funding endeavors if communities writ large are to have positive outcomes in both the short and long term.

On that note, we encourage YOU, our readership, to peruse both the national AND the local research on effective programming and remember big philanthropy are not the only players in the game. Individual donations can go a long way in sustaining organizations, especially locally based community organizations who are not tied to a national funding mechanism. So chose wisely!

For more information on disconnected youth, educational pathways and youth workforce development here in the District contact DCAYA Policy Analyst Anne Abbott (anne@dc-aya.org).

For more information on homeless and unstably housed youth or the programs that serve this population here in the District please contact DCAYA Senior Policy Analyst Maggie Riden (maggie@dc-aya.org).

For more information on the Brookings Report "Strengthening Career and Educational Pathways for DC Youth" please contact Martha Ross, Fellow, Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program.

One last thing BIG SHOUT OUTS to national orgs with local entities like YouthBuild, and Girls, Inc. and also to our friends at the Campaign for Youth Justice for making the list!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Slight, But Worthwhile Detour

Tuesday afternoon Council Member Michael Brown took to the steps of the Wilson Building to bring attention to the on-going crisis of teen pregnancy in the District. Though DCAYA does not cover the issue of teen pregnancy in the same we do our four main issue areas, teen pregnancy is a large contributor to many of the issues we do cover.

According to the DC Department of Health Statistics the 2008 teen pregnancy rate was 61.4 pregnancies per 1,000 girls 15 to 19. As noted in the graph below from our friends at the DC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy the District has historically battled rates well above the national average.

This is bad news for District teenagers for several reasons. High school graduation rates in the District are below 50% and at least some part of that is due to the high number of teen pregnancies in the District. Remember how hard it was to get out of bed every day for 8:00am homeroom in high school or how difficult it was to juggle homework, extracurricular activities and a social life when you were a teen? Imagine having to do that with a child to take care of. Traditional high schools do not offer options for child care or flexible scheduling that is conducive to young parents continuing their lives as students and once they drop out few options exists to re-engage young people with educational options.

The current rate of unemployment for 16 to 19 year olds is an abysmal 50%. Although the rate of the unemployed youth with children is hard to estimate what we do know is that the same issues of lack of affordable childcare options and the demanding schedules that force pregnant and parenting youth to drop out of education can also prevent them from entering or remaining in the workforce. Pregnant and parenting teens are at an extreme risk of being low-income or chronically unemployed throughout their lifetimes.

When teens and young adults have low levels of educational attainment and are also low-skilled and unable to find unemployment to support themselves and their families the downward spiral often continues. In DCAYA’s 2011 Homeless and Unstably Housed Youth Survey, 47% of the almost 500 youth who self- identified as being homeless or unstably housed reported having at least one child, with many respondents having more than one. While a good number (78%) of those individuals had physical custody of their child/children, only 41% had obtained a high school diploma or GED and only 20% were currently employed.

It is clear that adolescents are not setting themselves up for success when they engage in the risky behaviors that lead to teen pregnancy, however, at the end of the day communities pay the price for the poor judgment of teens in this regard. According to DCCP, 50% of people who receive temporary assistance for needy families (TANF) started families when they were teenagers and approximately three-quarters of the children placed in foster care were born to teen parents. Sons of teen mothers are three times more likely to enter the criminal justice system at some point in their lives. All of these systems and public benefits are very costly to taxpayers and even at their best are only treating the symptoms of poverty…not the causes.

DCAYA is happy to have both the DC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy as well as Council Member Michael Brown as allies in the fight to allocate more resources to the prevention of teenage pregnancy and related challenges that prevent youth from completing a successful transition into adulthood.

For more information on the DC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy please visit their website at dccampaign.org.

Monday, October 03, 2011

DC is Ripe for the Picking When it Comes to Reconnecting Disconnected Youth

DCAYA is pleased to announce that our report, Ripe for the Picking: Opportunities for Private Investment to Affect Disconnected Youth in Washington, DC, has been enthusiastically received by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. This report reflects the research done to date on this population as well as an overview of the policy and public funding landscape that currently exists for disconnected youth in the District of Columbia. In recognition of its publication we are providing here an overview of what this report is about: disconnected youth in DC.

“Disconnected” simply means youth that are neither in school nor working… NOT connected to school or work. Experts agree youth between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not doing either of these things are at an extreme risk of not growing into productive members of society. We would like to think that between the ages of 16 and 24 most people are finishing high school, entering college and transitioning into first jobs (likely with a few stints in part-time employment opportunities such as a summer job or working a few hours a week after class). However, this is becoming the road less travelled for large segments of the population, especially economically disadvantaged and system-involved youth. Granted some alternative options have become available to youth who deviate from the “normal” path that, if navigated correctly, re-engage and re-connect young people to education and employment, but as illustrated by the persistence of disconnection in communities across the country these options are not always enough to allow re-connection for large numbers of youth.

Greater Washington Research at the Brookings Institution recently analyzed 2009 American Community Survey (ACS) data and found that a total of 85,000 youth between the ages of 16 and 24 lived in the District. About 28,000 of those youth lived in households with an income less than 200% of the federal poverty level and had not achieved a bachelor’s degree or higher. Of that 28,000, nearly 9,000 were not in school and were unemployed or not in the labor force or looking for work. That means one in 10 youth aged 16 to 24 were neither in school nor working. For low-income youth without a bachelor’s degree that number rose to one in three.[i] To make matters worse, that ACS data was from 2009. The fallout from the recession has continued for the past two years here in the District and young people have been one of the groups most affected by its effects such as high-unemployment and increased rates of poverty.[ii] Although we don’t yet have 2011 ACS data to analyze it is highly likely that the number of out-of-school, out-of-work youth in the District today is even higher than the numbers from 2009.

Long story short: disconnected youth in DC are a major problem.

We know from years of practice and research that young people need proper support to grow into healthy and productive adults, and disconnected youth are no exception to that rule. However, if you read our report (abridged version attached) you’ll notice that at present, supports targeted towards disconnected youth are at a bare minimum. DCAYA along with other organizations and individuals are working to change that situation, but until we can force movement on this critical issue we rely on the devoted followers of our blog to help us disseminate the valuable information in our report.

A copy of the full report is available here.

Please keep in mind this report was developed specifically for funders who were interested in gaining a better understanding of where to dedicate their limited resources. DCAYA’s recommendations at the end of the paper are where we believe an infusion of funding will have the greatest benefit to the current population of disconnected young people and are not exhaustive of all the areas that could benefit disconnected youth.

[i] Strengthening Educational and Career Pathways for D.C. Youth. p. 5-6.

[ii] For an examination of the historic youth unemployment during recent years, see Sum, Andrew & Joseph McLaughlin. 2011. The Steep Decline in Teen Summer Employment in the U.S., 2000-2010 and the Summer 2011 Teen Job Market Disaster: Another Bummer Summer. Boston, MA: Center for Labor Market Studies.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Big Day for the Little People

As our last blog post centered on the need to include older youth and young adults in accounts of young peoples’ and families’ well-being, it seems only fair that this post should cover the youngins’. Last week, was a big week for younger youth in DC, at least politically speaking. Council Chairman Kwame Brown held the first of two roundtables about the state of education for the middle-grades on Wednesday and turnout was high. Though this roundtable only included public witnesses, everyone from concerned parents, to members of the State Board of Education and education advocates turned out to give their testimony to Chairman Brown and various other Council Members who presided over the hearing through the course of the day.

Chairman Brown recently remarked in a weekly newsletter that the middle grades are an “exciting and critical developmental time for students. It's important that we challenge them with a rigorous curriculum, engage them in project-based learning, and expose them to the opportunities that await them in college and careers. And we need to identify funding to support promising, innovative programs that are already demonstrating success with middle grades students.” So in honor of Chairman Brown’s suggestions, we thought we might give an example (or two) of areas ripe for funding support that are indeed demonstrating success with middle grades students.

1) Structured Summer Learning Opportunities

The educational losses middle-school students sustain during the summer months can be severe and the situation is especially dire for the low-income students who make up a majority of DCPS. Statistically, economically disadvantaged students start school with lower achievement scores than their peers, but during the school year they progress at about the same rate as other students. However, this progress can be quickly negated during the summer months. While research shows that most students across the socio-economic spectrum lose approximately 2 months of grade-level equivalency in math over the summer months, low-income students also lose 2 months of reading equivalency while their middle-class peers tend to make slight gains (National Summer Learning Association). All children and youth are susceptible to “summer slide,” but for already low-performing students, the lack of Summer School options makes sustained educational achievement nearly impossible. Lots of people at last week’s roundtable pointed to low scores on DC CAS and schools’ failure to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) as evidence of failing middle schools in the District. How do we expect to improve on these measures if the summer is literally erasing the knowledge our children and youth are gaining during the school year?

Summer School provides structure and continued skill development to those students in need of academic recovery in addition to the overall prevention of summer learning loss. In 2010, DCPS enrolled roughly 5,000 elementary and middle school students in Summer School. However, this past summer, 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students had only 175 slots available. Investing in a robust education system that accounts for the educational attainment of all children and youth is the only way that we can attain truly improved outcomes in our public school system. To accomplish this, DC must fund learning opportunities that keep doors open during the summer months. We are literally undoing the gains are public school students are making during the school year by not providing them with structured learning opportunities over the summer months. By funding a more robust system of summer education opportunities we CAN counter this trend.

However, this system cannot end simply at summer school and must also include structured, outcomes driven enrichment activities like those funded through the Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation. If we’re going to expect greatness from our students we cannot allow them to backslide, but we must also keep them engaged and interested in the learning process- stimulated by new experiences that give them a vision for their future. Which brings us to opportunity number 2:

2) After-school Opportunities

Engaging and creative enrichment activities that compliment extended learning opportunities shouldn’t be limited to the summer months. And there is no shortage of research on the effectiveness of after-school programs. Across the country high-performing programs have been linked to a number of outcomes including improved self-confidence, better civic engagement, better school attendance, improved academic achievement and decreased delinquency. The hours between when school ends and parents leave work are critical. (Need citation). For communities like DC, where many parents are single heads of household, living barely at- or far below the poverty level- access to high quality afterschool programming that is affordable and keeps children and youth engaged is a necessity.

Despite the need for such programs, DC has systematically divested in these programs over the past few years. Funding to community organizations providing this type of programming has dropped by over 60% in the last two years alone. In addition, at each budget season, the DCPS Office of Out of School Time which also provides critical extended learning opportunities face significant budget reductions and substantial cuts that reduce the number of children they can serve.

Much like summertime learning, high quality afterschool programs provide the additional hours of learning that is absolutely essential in fighting the achievement gap between low-income and middle/high-income students. Considering the number of times the word equity got tossed around at last week’s roundtable, re-funding programs like summer school and agencies like CYITC and the DCPS Office of OST seem like no brainers when it comes to achieving parity within our school system.

We applaud Chairman Brown for taking the lead in examining how DC can better support middle school aged students, and we hope he embraces many of the recommendations made at the roundtable and above and champions them strongly- both highlighting the need, and matching that need with funding and council support- in the coming years.

And if you don't believe us...just read this fantastic testimony prepared by the Executive Director of DCAYA MemberOrg Higher Achievement. If we can't convince you surely Lynsey can!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Making "Kids Count" About More Than Kids

Last week, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released their annual Kids Count Databook. Kids Count is an important tool for many stakeholders that deal with children and youth, from advocates like the staff and members of DCAYA to policy actors like the City Council right down to the families and individuals the data book reports on.

The data book is a national scan of a series of indicators that are accepted means of tracking how children are fairing. Each year the databook has a theme, and this year's was how family economic well-being affects child welfare. The data is presented in such a way that viewers of the databook can see how different states and territories are doing from year to year. An example is shown below:

Kids Count provides valuable information on a range of issues. However, something sorely missing from the databook is a wealth of indicators telling us how YOUTH and YOUNG ADULTS are doing and how their well being affects family well being. Kids Count is CHOCK FULL of indicators about early childhood and school aged children, but when it comes to data about teenagers and especially individuals in their early twenties..fuhgeddaboutit.

It may seem counter intuitive to include young adults in a report titled Kids Count, but as A growing body of research (from some reallllllly smart people) points out, the transition from childhood (for most intents and purposes up to age 18) to adulthood is not on the same schedule it used to be. Children and young adults are living with their parents for longer, getting married later (or not at all) and its taking most of them a while to find well paid, sustainable jobs and careers. These trends are true across socio-economic groups and demographics. As one of the reallllly smart people we mentioned earlier, Frank Furstenberg Jr. has pointed out, America's welfare, education, workforce development and safety net system DOES NOT invest heavily in things like education, health care, and job benefits for young adults. As a result, we rely on the investments that individual families make in their own children during the young adult years. But as adulthood is delayed, so is financial independence. Older teenagers and those in their early 20's (and for some even mid and late twenties) are increasingly reliant on their parents or guardians to provide housing, food and financial backing... obviously this will have an effect on the overall economic security of families in the U.S.

Karen Pittman, from the Forum for Youth Investment's Ready By 21 Initiative noticed the same gap in the Kids Count Data and in response wrote ,"We need to do a better job of highlighting the statistics and stories of older youth, and ensuring that our policy recommendations include strategies that address their needs for job training, educational stipends, extended health and social benefits, employer incentives and paid service opportunities."

DCAYA couldn't agree more Karen!

As this body of research continues to grow, we can only hope that the complicated transition from adolescence to adulthood and the public investment that is needed at this stage of development is transferred into the psyches of policy makers and the general public, to the point where we see indicators of youth and young adult well-being on data books like Kids Count. Until then groups like DCAYA and the Forum for Youth Investment will no doubt continue to spread the word about issues specific to youth and young adult population.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

SYEP: Why DC Needs a Plan to Succeed

DCAYA provided testimony last week to the Committee on Housing and Workforce Development at a special DOES Roundtable about the performance of the District's OneCity Summer Youth Employment Program. In addition to sending our resident policy gurus to testify and live tweet the hearing, we also convened a panel of summer workforce providers that could speak to some of the issues they saw firsthand with SYEP this year.

The general feel of the hearing was one of encouragement. For the first time in years, SYEP appeared to come in under budget and had far fewer participants and taxpayers calling elected officials to complain. However, as advocates and concerned residents of the District we need to be leery of celebrating too early, setting low expectations and labeling a program whose outcomes are not well defined as a success just because it came in under budget.

Make no mistake, the Department of Employment Services has certainly taken steps in the right direction since 2008 and 2009, but the District's youth, their parents, and even the community writ large should expect excellence out of its youth programs, not mediocrity. Due in large part to SYEP's history as a program that places a high burden on taxpayers, leaves youth and parents angered and disgruntled while providing few tangible results and benefits, our expectations as a city are currently abysmally low. But this isn't the way it has to be. The District can do right by its youth and provide quality; outcomes based programming that does not have to shock the world by coming in under budget.

DCAYA's testimony outlines various areas of improvement that will continue to raise the bar for SYEP's performance in 2012,but to actually ensure that DOES is making headway toward positive outcomes for our youth the District needs to answer one simple question. What is the ultimate goal of SYEP?

Is the point of SYEP to simply expose young people to the workplace? Is it skill building? Is SYEP supposed to be job exploration that allows youth to “try before you buy” in different employment sectors or is the government simply running a program that connects youth with a paycheck? It may be all of these things, or none, or even a combination of these things and other goals we did not mention, but any way you swing it the District needs to outline definitive objectives, develop targets and outcomes that illustrate whether those objectives are being met and actively message all of these to our elected officials, the advocacy community and most importantly, the participating youth. Only then can SYEP be accurately judged as a success or failure.

In the coming weeks, DCAYA will be partnering with DOES to run feedback sessions for providers that participated in the 2011 program so that program staff at DOES and in the administration can better understand what about SYEP is working well and what isn't. We salute DOES’ efforts to illicit honest feedback from the provider community and will do everything in our power to help the agency obtain this feedback; however, having hosted sessions like these in years past, it will come as no surprise when responses about clarity of mission and vision start rolling in. It is our hope that thru this process, providers concerns are taken seriously and critical improvements like the formulation of a strategic plan are undertaken in an efficient manner.

SYEP, like most youth serving programs is a program that is absolutely teeming with potential. By providing young people with a strong foundation for lifelong success in the labor market, we help our youth, but also the long term economic standing of the District. The District needs to take advantage of this potential and use the momentum DOES has created over the past year to further improve SYEP and thus the economic vitality of the city.

Links to all the testimony DCAYA provides at Council hearings is available on our website.

If you or staff members from your organization are interested in participating in one of the follow up groups with DOES please contact DCAYA’s Policy Analyst for Youth Workforce Development Anne Abbott (anne @dc-aya.org)