Thursday, January 30, 2014

Bringing Youth to the Table

As you may have heard, DC Council published their upcoming Performance Hearing Schedule and the excitement begins February 7th! Performance hearings are an incredibly important part of DC government oversight and operations.  They are a powerful opportunity for the community to give agencies and the Council key feedback on what is working and what can be improved.

Youth program participants bring unique insight to the conversation when given the opportunity to speak on behalf of the programs they access. Since youth interact with a variety of government agencies and services - often in a unique way - their voice in these hearings is critically important. We strongly encourage our members to talk with the youth they serve about the chance to testify in person, submit a written statement, write a personal letter, or even submit a verbal statement on camera so the Councilmembers who oversee key committees can hear their perspective. The youth voice is a vital part of the democratic process.

We’ve taken a few steps to help facilitate this process:

DC Alliance of Youth Advocates is a coalition created to insure that the best programs and practices are offered to our city's young people. By unifying our voice during the performance oversight and budget hearings, we seek to realize our vision of building a truly youth-friendly DC.

Performance Oversight Hearings:
February 10th
Committee on Human Services, Chairperson Jim Graham
Agency: Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation
February 12th
Committee on Human Services, Chairperson Jim Graham
Agency: Child and Family Services Agency
February 13th
Committee on Education, Chairperson David Catania
Agency: DC Public Schools (Public Witnesses Only)
Committee on Transportation & The Environment, Chairperson Kenyan McDuffie
Agency: Department of Parks and Recreation
February 19th
Committee on Education, Chairperson David Catania
Agencies: State Board of Education, Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education, Public Library System
February 20th
Committee on Human Services, Chairperson Jim Graham
Agency: Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services
February 24th
Committee on Government Operations, Chairperson Kenyan McDuffie
Agencies: Advisory Neighborhood Commission, Executive Office of the Mayor
Committee on Education, Chairperson David Catania
Agency: Office of the State Superintendent of Education
Committee of the Whole, Chairman Phil Mendelson
Agencies: University of the District of Columbia, University of the District of Columbia Community College

February 26th
Committee on Business, Consumer, & Regulatory Affairs
 Agency: Workforce Investment Council
Committee on Human Services, Jim Graham
Agency: Department of Human Services

February 27th
Committee on Education, Chairperson David Catania 
Agency: DC Public Schools (Government Witnesses Only)
 March 6th
 Committee on Education, Chairperson David Catania
 Agencies: DC Public Charter School Board, Public Charter Schools

Maggie Riden is the Executive Director of DC Alliance of Youth Advocates. To read her past performance oversight and budget hearing testimonies please visit Maggie will also be one of the presenters hosting the Advocacy through Storytelling - Brown Bag Lunch

 For more on youth issues in DC you can FOLLOW us on Twitter, LIKE us on Facebook, SUBSCRIBE to this blog and VISIT us at

Thursday, January 16, 2014

"One-Stop-Shop" to Re-engagement

In DC, more than 12,000 youth are disconnected. This means that they are no longer connected to the education system, nor can they find full-time employment. Their disconnection can be fueled by severe trauma, the need to care for family members, high transportation costs, becoming young parents, and the need to earn money, however they can, to afford basic necessities. Here in DC, taxpayers spend $167 million or, $13,900 per disconnected youth each year. These numbers don’t even account for what better educated and engaged young employees would add to our economy. The costs may be eye-opening, but the opportunities for savings and earnings should be a shocking call to action. As DC community members, we all have a stake in our young peoples' success.

But disconnected youth don’t see themselves as hopeless victims. And neither should we. DCAYA’s 2013 Connecting Youth to Opportunity report showed disconnected youth trying again and again to reconnect to education and employment opportunities. What the report found is that the system is simply not set up for youth to effectively reconnect. Youth typically have to make multiple attempts at various agencies or sites -- each with their own paperwork and processes, each in a different part of the city -- to achieve a bundle of services that fits their needs. This is time consuming and becomes expensive, as childcare and transportation costs factor into the process of reconnecting. Once youth are able to research their options and complete paperwork, they must still wait through an enrollment process, all to be matched with a program that may or may not actually meet their needs.

So how do we change the system that keeps letting youth fall through the cracks? We look to the examples of cities that are effectively reconnecting young people.

Philadelphia, Chicago, and Boston are leading the way in preventing disconnection, promoting reconnection, and facilitating successful entry into the workforce. Their success lies in a simple concept: Rather than expect youth to travel all around the city, stretching the limits of their time and budgets, then apply for programs that are already full, and then invest time in programs that do not fit their needs; provide youth with a practical, effective way to re-engage. Create a ‘one-stop-shop’ for reconnection.

These ‘one-stop-shops,’ or re-engagement centers, eliminate unnecessary obstacles for youth to further their education and find a job by centralizing the location of critical services. DCPS, DYRS, and CFSA all have re-engagement opportunities for youth, but simply cannot do what a centralized center can: connect youth to various options within a singular location. Our disconnected young people are craving success. Bringing these services together and guiding youth through the process of choosing the best programs to fit their needs allows youth to build their lives and in turn, build our community.

A re-engagement center is the first big step the city must take to successfully reconnect youth who have lost contact with education and employment opportunities. By bringing services together, youth may navigate a system that helps, rather than hinders, their path to a positive and productive adulthood. A re-engagement center is critical to making DC a sustainable community of engaged citizens.

 Amy Dudas is the disconnected youth and workforce development policy analyst at DC Alliance of Youth Advocates. This FY'15 budget season, Amy will be advocating for the DC Council to launch a re-engagement center as well as broaden transportation subsidies for youth accessing SYEP and alternative education programs.

For more on youth issues in DC you can FOLLOW us on Twitter, LIKE us on Facebook, SUBSCRIBE to this blog and VISIT us at

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

2014 Advocacy Agenda: Bring the Youth Voice to DC Council

With agency performance hearings starting February 7th, the primary on April 1st, and budget hearings kicking off on April 8th, the next few months will bring multiple opportunities for the DCAYA community to come together and ensure that the youth voice is a part of every policy, practice and funding conversation.

To set the stage for this exciting time of year, we wanted to take a moment and provide you with a quick rundown of the areas DCAYA will be focusing our advocacy efforts on this spring.

Youth Homelessness

Over the past few months we have seen significant strides in raising public awareness and garnering political interest in the issue of youth homelessness. With the development of the Bold Strategy to End Youth Homelessness in the District of Columbia and our members’ social media outreach, the issue is now on the radar of community members and councilmembers alike. We will move forward this spring by pushing the plan into legislation along with taking further steps to ensure all youth have a warm, safe place. We will advocate to:
  • Implement first year of multi-year strategy:
    •  Prevention: Family reunification and host-home program.
    •  Intervention: Increase shelter capacity, create 2 drop-in centers, coordinate outreach.
    •  Evaluation: Systematically track outcomes and extend point-in-time study. 
  • Amend language of HSRA: 
    • Ensure minors are considered “individuals” and therefore entitled to shelter on freezing nights.
  • Define unaccompanied minors with their own children as a “family”: 
    • Make it possible for them to access the Homeless Services System for Families.
  • Illustrate the current problem: 
    • If a 16 year old and her child show up to DC General, they will be turned away because the mother is not at least 18 years old.

Expanded Learning

Expanded Learning programs reduce school drop-out rates, improves grades, and increases youths’ social skills and motivation levels. However, in DC, thousands of youth are turned away from the programs due to lack of space. The District must return funding to its previous level by:
  • Re-committing local dollars: 
    • Now is the time to put the money back in the investment of our youth.
  • Expecting high quality: 
    • Programs will improve scores, reduce drop-out rate, and continue services youth need in order to thrive.
  • Turning no youth away: 
    • Youth should not be turned out on the street after school or in the summer if they want to keep learning. Currently there is not enough space for all who want to learn.

Disconnected Youth

In the report Connecting Youth to Opportunity: Better Understanding the Needs of Disconnected Young People in Washington DC, DCAYA detailed six recommendations for improving education-career pathways for youth looking to reconnect. The results of the city-wide survey and focus groups contributed to the coming years advocacy goals. 
  • Request support of the launch of a re-engagement center for DC’s youth:
    • With nearly 14,000 youth disengaged from school without a HS diploma or equivalent and struggling to enter the labor market, a re-engagement center provides a one-stop portal where youth can access referral services to successfully re-connect. 
    • We’ve seen the success of such centers implemented in a diverse number of communities; notably, Philadelphia and Boston. 
  • Advocate for the creation of a re-engagement center in concert with an increase in alternative education capacity:
    • With at least 80% of the nearly 3,000 existing alternative learning seats for 16-24 year olds already occupied by students, expansion in alternative education and enriched adult basic education with credentialing capacity is needed to meet existing demand.
  • Work to broaden the eligibility of transportation subsidies to age 24:
    • Extension captures ‘older’ youth who have disconnected from traditional educational programs and have reconnected to GED or alternative credentialing programs (STAY). 
    • Financially speaking, 12,000 currently disconnected District students cost taxpayers roughly $13,900 or a total of $167,000,000 in lost earnings annually. 
      • The per-student annual social cost (subsidized health care, income assistance, higher rates of criminal justice involvement) of $37,450 associated with disconnection is an additional $449,000,000 a year.
    • Our Connecting Youth to Opportunity report shows: “12% of surveyed youth identified that they could not always afford to get to school/class… Nearly one-third (29%) of students reported spending more than $30 a week or $120 a month getting to and from school. This suggests youth are spending between 15-30% of their monthly income on transportation alone.
  • Encourage extending the hours of Kids Ride Free availability to 10pm:
    • This would remove the burden of transportation costs for those who have successfully reconnected to education in alternative school settings.
    • Many young people that face financial pressure to work while pursuing an education need a more flexible educational program that necessitates night classes.

Youth Workforce

The District's youth face a steep uphill battle in acquiring the educational credentials, hard and soft skills, and work experience required to find meaningful employment. We can turn this trend around by investing in year-round workforce training programs, the development of a comprehensive workforce development system, and focusing on quality programming and outcomes.
  • DC has an untapped economic opportunity in young job-seekers :
    • Advocate for the connection of summer work experiences with year-round academic coursework or training
  • Alleviate a barrier to SYEP participation by offering a transportation subsidy:
    • Many students who rely on the earnings of SYEP for college or family income find transportation a significant portion of earnings. 

Looking ahead, we hope you, your organization and the young people you work with will take a few minutes to think creatively about how you can become involved by:

  • Encouraging youth, parents, volunteers, staff or board members to testify at a performance or budget hearing. 
  • Recording the testimony of your supporters and young people and sending them into DCAYA for us to share them electronically with Council and the community. 
  • Joining DCAYA at a meeting with Council members or at an agency budget briefing. 
  • Attending a candidate forum or sharing our candidate questionnaire results with your networks.
  • Participating in a DCAYA Call to Action Event. 

More details of each event will be released soon, but wanted to put a little bug in your ear as a heads up. Every bit helps. We are strongest when we speak together and DC youth deserve to be heard. 

DC Alliance of Youth Advocates envisions a community where no youth is considered at-risk and where all are respected as valued members of society. To this end, we work to establish structured opportunities for adolescents to become safe, healthy, resilient, and confident community members.

For more on youth issues in DC you can FOLLOW us on Twitter, LIKE us on Facebook,SUBSCRIBE to this blog and VISIT us at