Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Afterschool Programs For The Win!

In DC, 35% of children and youth participate in afterschool programs, while 66% would participate if a program was available. This week, we have a special guest blog from WNBA assistant couch Eric Thibault who witnesses firsthand the transformative power of sports on a young person's social, mental, and physical development. Eric is a DCAYA "Afterschool Champ" for his advocacy in expanding access to afterschool sports programs for DC girls.

The blog 'tips off' DCAYA's eBay auction for the "Ivory Latta Experience". The highest bidder will practice their backswing with basketball star Ivory Latta at the Top Golf  driving range. Along with spending quality one-on-one time with a WNBA athlete, the lucky winner will receive a signed Latta jersey and mini basketball. All proceeds will go toward DCAYA's work in expanding access to quality afterschool and summer programs for all District youth. 

Enter Your Bid for the "Ivory Latta Experience"

As an assistant coach for the WNBA’s Washington Mystics, I’m very lucky to have sports pay the bills. But before basketball was ever my profession, it was what I looked forward to every day: at recess, on Saturday mornings, and after school let out in the afternoon. While basketball has stuck with me and become a central part of my life, it was never the only after-school activity to grab my attention. Baseball, soccer, tennis, golf, band, creative writing, math club – I can point to each of these experiences as having a key part to play in my social, mental, and physical development.

Learning to be a valuable part of a team is an essential and irreplaceable component of growing up, and one that is most readily accomplished through sports. Among countless other lessons, playing sports taught me how to handle winning and losing, to pursue and achieve both personal and group goals, to relate to others with different backgrounds, viewpoints and abilities than myself, to sacrifice for the good of a group, and how to handle myself in pressure-filled situations. When I was in graduate school, a classmate expressed frustration with one of our sports management group projects. Our professor, with a laugh but clearly not joking, told him to “get used to it – life is a long string of group projects.” The professor was completely right; whether you are a coach, a teacher, a chemist, a musician, an administrator, or a politician, there’s no substitute for learning how to interact and succeed within a group of varying opinions and attributes. Almost without fail, the people in that class that grew up playing team sports adapted more quickly to the tasks at hand than those who lacked that experience.

In a more immediate sense, after-school activities directly improve the quality of life for kids. Sports help with nutrition and combat obesity, a growing problem in our country. Art and music are backed by endless amounts of research that indicates they improve academic performance. After-school programs of all kinds can help keep kids living in high-crime or poverty-stricken areas from falling into more dangerous situations. On a personal level, I know I learned arithmetic from studying basketball stat sheets and understood geometry more easily with the help of passing angles. Understanding how to curve a golf shot went hand in hand with physics class. Playing the drums in the band showed me the importance of getting on the same page with my peers in those interminable group projects.

Above all, the part of my sports experience for which I’m most grateful was the opportunity to establish relationships with people I would not otherwise have befriended. When I was 13 years old and in middle school (a mostly-white, upper-middle class middle school), I played on a predominantly black basketball team. Some players came from money, some did not. Some had two parents at home, some had one, some had none. The thing that we all had in common was a love for basketball, and that bridge allowed us to move past any awkwardness and get to know each other as individual human beings. When you get to spend that quality time around people from different backgrounds, it shapes how you see the world. You start to see the world in shades of gray, and move away from lazy stereotypes. It’s one thing for your parents to explain tolerance, it’s another to learn it on a day-to-day basis. I have no doubt that our society would be a more accepting place if more people had similar opportunities at age 13, or younger. Being part of a sports team, school band, or debate club offers an environment where that becomes a natural consequence, where kids develop attitudes and habits that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.

Who's your #AfterschoolChamp? Tell us on Twitter from March 25 - April 1 for a chance to win a "DCAYA Afterschool Champ Badge"!

To read more about youth issues in DC you can FOLLOW us on Twitter, LIKE us on Facebook and VISIT us at

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

DCAYA Testifies about Youth Homelessness

This week’s blog post is an excerpt from testimony given by Maggie Riden, the Executive Director of DC Alliance of Youth Advocates, at the Department of Human Services performance oversight hearing on March 12, 2015. The following entry was edited for length. 

Good morning Chairwoman Alexander, fellow Councilmembers, and committee staff. My name is Maggie Riden and I am the Executive Director of DC Alliance of Youth Advocates, a coalition of over 130 youth-serving organizations in the District.  Today, I would like to welcome the new Director of the Department of Human Services and identify the key areas in which DHS can move forward.

It is indeed a “fresh start” for DHS.  We are committed to working with Director Zeilinger to prevent homelessness, improve homeless services, and find stable housing solutions in the District.  In order for this collaborative effort to work, transparency and communication are critical to building a system which properly serves homeless youth.  

First and foremost, DCAYA is concerned by the unclear and seeming slow implementation pace of the Homeless Youth Reform Act of 2013 and the End Youth Homelessness Act of 2014. Having a clearer timeline and transparent funding information is essential for collaborative planning of youth-specific services. This point is especially poignant, because as we speak, there are youth on waiting lists for emergency and transitional beds. We urge DHS to clarify the internal status of the funding and layout next steps to ensure proper implementation.

There is also a need for greater transparency and communication among the services offered to youth-headed families.  This is clearly illustrated in the updated status on the implementation of the Rudd report recommendations. For example:

Rudd report:

“Recommendation 6.1:  Increase the number of on-site case managers to identify and engage those families who are difficult to serve.”

DHS Answer:

“DHS and TCP provide case management services to all families in shelter.  In addition, the Bowser administration recently announced the creation and funding of housing navigators who will be responsible for specifically assisting families with their housing needs, allowing case managers to focus on other issues.”  

This DHS answer does not present clear information on whether additional case managers were hired, how many case managers were hired, if the case managers are full or part-time employees, or the credentials of the case managers.  DHS must communicate transparent information on the status of its implementation of the Rudd recommendations, including basic data on implemented changes, written protocols, training materials, and explanation of mechanisms.  Relisha was not the only young person taken from DC General - DHS must clearly articulate the steps being taken to ensure such tragedies do not repeat themselves.  

Meanwhile, there are pockets of great work happening in our community around youth homelessness.  The Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) is helping agencies and community-service providers in developing and implementing the Coordinated Entry for youth.  DHS is playing a role in this process, and the role must continue to grow, as the issue falls squarely within DHS’s mandate.  

The Coordinated Entry system is identifying the knots, gaps, and workarounds present in the current system of youth services.  It is time for DHS and its partners to untangle the systemic workarounds covering up the problem of youth homelessness.  It is time for DHS and its partners to build a system which connects youth to best-fit services and programs.  With the new funding provided by the youth homelessness legislation, DHS and its partners have the resources to meet the needs of homeless youth with new, transparent, and well-communicated policies and programs.  

DHS has an incredibly difficult job in the District, where inequality is rapidly growing and intergenerational poverty is deeply-rooted. We do not ask for quick solutions, but we do demand greater transparency and communication.  It is the only way that we, as a community, will fix the horrible reality of vast homelessness in the District.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Expanding Our Approach to Education

Photo Courtesy of Beacon House
Education is a top issue in DC. There are constant debates around truancy, graduation rates, charter schools, credit attainment, assessment scores, teacher supports, community involvement, student engagement, and the list goes on. DCAYA focuses on one educational topic at the heart of these debates: Expanded Learning.

To give context, the Expanded Learning Model adds time to the school day by partnering schools with community-based providers (CBOs). These partnerships enhance the curriculum by bringing enrichment activities, led by CBOs, into the classroom to compliment the traditional school subjects taught by teachers. The partnership also allows teachers to spend more time planning the curriculum and engaging in professional development opportunities, while CBOs are working in the classroom with the students. DCAYA supports this model because it is a win-win situation for everyone: CBOs enhance the school climate, students are offered personalized and hands-on learning experiences, and teachers have extra time to plan and grade work without feeling overwhelmed and/or burnt out by the longer school day.

See all of the benefits of an Expanded Learning Model in DCAYA’s latest one-pager:

So what would it take for DC to adopt the Expanded Learning Model?

DC currently has certain pieces in place to smoothly transition schools into an Expanded Learning framework: a high-concentration of quality community-based providers, extended days for certain schools, and the infrastructure to facilitate community collaboration. In fact, DC already has an example of a functioning and thriving Expanded Learning Model at Kelly Miller Middle School through their partnership with Higher Achievement.

However, in order for DC to scale the model responsibly and successfully, District-wide data must be collected on afterschool and summer programming to fully understand the landscape. Both the Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation (DC Trust) and DC Public Schools (DCPS) are in a position to collaborate and gather such data, which would allow the District to begin building a strategy to connect schools with CBOs. The data would also be used to assess students current limitations and access to afterschool and summer programming and ensure that at-risk students are receiving ample educational supports.

To further understand the Expanded Learning Model and DCAYA’s 2015 policy asks, be sure to read the one-pager and reach out to our policy analyst Katie Dunn at for more information on testifying at DC Council hearings.

In addition to educating the public and policymakers about the benefits of an Expanded Learning Model, DCAYA is also advocating to protect current afterschool and summer programming. In the coming weeks, look out for another #LightsOnAfterschool social media campaign to ensure that Trust grantees receive full funding for their summer programs. 

To read more about youth issues in DC you can FOLLOW us on Twitter, LIKE us on Facebook and VISIT us at

Thursday, February 19, 2015

From Chicago to DC - Homeless Youth Share Similar Challenges

On February 24th, DCAYA is partnering with OSSE, Sasha Bruce, and a number of homeless youth providers to host a screening on the critically acclaimed documentary “The Homestretch”. Following the documentary will be a panel discussion with leading homeless youth advocates on what the District and individuals can do to combat this growing problem.

“The Homestretch” follows three Chicago teens as they navigate the education and services system while struggling with the realities of homelessness. As described in The Atlantic, “the documentary demonstrates the complexity of the issue – a problem that’s often hidden from the public eye.” While different scenarios caused the film’s protagonists to become homeless – indentifying as LGBTQ, facing obstacles with immigrant status, and fleeing from stepparent abuse – the challenges these individuals face closely mirror those of D.C.’s homeless youth population.

Watch a live stream of the panel discussion at 7:30PM on Tuesday, February 24th:

Photo courtesy of "The Homestretch"

National data shows that approximately 40% of youth experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTQ. With only 10% of the total population identifying as LGBTQ, this small subset of youth represents a large proportion of the homeless population.

While better data is needed to truly understand the scope of homelessness among LGBTQ youth in DC, anecdotal evidence reflects a similar narrative to Kasey’s. In a 2011 DCAYA study on youth homelessness, one respondent wrote, “At age 17 I was kicked out and ‘disowned’ by the very family that raised me. Why, do you ask? Well, it was because of my sexuality.”

Photo courtesy of "The Homestretch"

Youth are underrepresented during the annual point-in-time count to calculate the number of homeless individuals in a city because unsurprisingly, youth do not want others to know they are homeless. High school is hard enough without dealing with the stigma of homelessness.

Even more underrepresented, however, are Latino youth because of reasons similar to Roque. Some Latino youth are forced to stay undetected and not seek services because they fear getting themselves, or their family, in trouble with immigration.  This poses a particularly difficult challenge around funding services for Latino youth because while the need is apparent, the numbers are elusive.

Photo courtesy of "The Homestretch"

During the 2014 point-in-time study conducted by the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness, 907 families in DC were in emergency shelters – a huge jump from 464 families in 2013.  Of those families, half are young parents under 24.

With the surge in family homelessness, and young workers in DC facing a 16% unemployment rate, young parents have few options to get themselves out of a shelter and onto a path of long term stability. DC helps families exit shelter through Rapid Re-housing, a program that combines rental assistance and case management for generally up to 12 months. Rapid Re-housing programs, however, are finding that youth need more intensive case management, life skills training, and educational options in order for young parents to begin paying rent without assistance.

While further data is needed on DC’s Rapid Re-housing outcomes, the need for youth-focused transitional housing programs is clear, especially with DC expecting to see a 16% rise in family homeless this winter.

Be on the lookout for information on a large community screening happening in DC in the Spring and how you can get involved with local youth homelessness advocacy efforts. 

Watch a trailer of the film here: 

To read more about youth issues in DC you can FOLLOW us on Twitter, LIKE us on Facebook and VISIT us at

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Busting Myths On Youth Homelessness

During these busy months of advocacy season, it’s always a good idea to do a quick refresher on the basics. That’s why we’ve updated our Youth Homelessness one-pager. Take a look! The one-pager gives the basic stats on youth homelessness in DC and summarizes recent efforts to tackle the issue.

Besides just the facts and figures though, advocacy season is also an important time to identify and debunk policy myths that have been floating around. So here are the top three youth homelessness myths that we’ve heard this past the year, along with how we debunk them.

MYTH: Providing emergency shelter for youth encourages them to leave their families.

Family reunification is the top priority for DC agencies and community-based organizations. From the moment a young person walks through their door, the service providers are thinking about if, how, and when the youth can connect to family members who can support them. This is best practice and follows federal guidelines. 
Family reunification is achieved through different paths, depending on the dynamics of the situation. Sometimes functional family therapy is the best tool. Sometimes finding other relatives where the youth can stay for a period of time is the best solution. Other times the youth needs to form a therapeutic bond with service providers before they can learn to mimic that with their own family. Usually the solution is some combination of these three. 
It is important to remember, though, that family reunification is not always achievable or a good idea. One quick example is when a youth identifies as a member of the LGBTQ community and no family member is willing to support them based on their sexuality. 
Remember, these youth are not leaving home as a result of a little fight with their parents. Youth do not check into shelter like you would check into a hotel. DC homeless youth have told us that they seek services because they have nowhere else to turn.

MYTH: Youth from outside DC come into DC just to take advantage of our homelessness services.

Historic oppression, a struggling education system, and rising inequality have created a dire situation for DC youth. It is heartbreaking. Yes, youth, like most people, go in and out of the boundaries of DC every day. Homeless youth, especially, have to shuffle from family member, to friend, to acquaintance in order to find food and shelter. But make no mistake: these are our youth, and they are not “shopping around” to find the best deal. 
Sleeping on peoples’ couches, whether they are in DC or a half mile outside it, can be dangerous for a young person. Youth will tell you, receiving favors usually comes at a cost; some form of payment for sleeping on a person’s couch is eventually required, which could mean running drugs or engaging in unwanted sexual acts. We have to protect our youth and that starts by claiming them as our own.

MYTH: Youth homelessness issues should only be dealt with by the Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA).

CFSA's mandate is to remove minors (under age 18) from high-risk, domestic situations where parental abuse or neglect is reported. This unimaginably difficult work is critical to protecting DC children and youth. 
However, youth who are experiencing a hostile home environment – but not abuse or neglect – are the young people who fall through the cracks and often become homeless.  
Take the earlier example of the young person who identifies as LGBTQ. The young person may be experiencing a hostile environment because their parent or guardian does not support them based on their sexuality. This fact does not necessarily mean that the parent or guardian is abusing or neglecting their child, however, the young person is at a high-risk of leaving or feeling forced to leave and becoming homeless 
CFSA does however, have the power to refer parents of minors in low- to mid-risk situations to Community Collaboratives which provide voluntary services, such as family reunification and counseling programs. Many times though, families will not follow up with the Community Collaboratives because of a lack of trust and fear of stigma around receiving services from the child welfare system. 
This is why DC must look beyond just using CFSA as an agency to house homeless youth and work closely with community based organizations that are designed to provide services to both minors and youth up to 24 who leave their home because of reasons that fall outside of CFSA’s mandate.

Thanks for brushing up on your youth homelessness policy basics. Be sure to let us know if you’ve heard any youth homelessness policy myths floating around and tell us how you debunk them!

Katie Dunn is the youth homelessness and expanded learning policy analyst at DCAYA. You can follow learn more about youth issues in DC by following Katie on twitter at @kdunntweets.

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, February 04, 2015

Creating Career Pathways for DC Youth

Guest blogger Martha Ross is a fellow at the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program whose work focuses on education, training, and the labor market. 

This week, Martha highlights recommendations from a recently released report “Improving Youth Programs and Outcomes in Washington, D.C.”.

No one is satisfied with the educational and employment outcomes of District youth, nor should they be. Consider a few data points: 

  • Unemployment rates skyrocketed during the recession and have yet to recover, disproportionately affecting younger workers. In 2013, unemployment among teens aged 16-19 in the District stood at 34%. Among young adults aged 20-24 it was 12.3%, and among the total population it was 8.6%. 
  • Only about two-thirds of public high school students graduate in four years. 
  • Unacceptably large numbers of low-income young people with lower levels of education—about 8,300, or 9% of all young people aged 16 to 24—are “disconnected,” meaning they are neither in school nor employed. 

So what should we do? In a recent report I co-authored with Mala B. Thakur, Improving Youth Programs and Outcomes in Washington, D.C., I outline two areas for action. 

1.) Programs serving youth should use data to measure their progress towards reaching their goals.
This practice would help young people increase their skills, educational credentials, and employment outcomes.  This sounds almost laughably commonsensical but it’s harder to do than it sounds.  Most organizations serving youth are well aware of the power of data, but on any given day, data-related tasks are vulnerable to being outranked by more immediate priorities. Organizations can find it difficult to direct resources toward data and evaluation, since it usually directly competes with service delivery. 
One concrete step would be for funders to support a community of practice for service providers to improve their use of data for learning, self-evaluation, and ongoing improvement.  A community of practice is a learning partnership among people who find it useful to learn from and with each other about a particular topic.  In this case, members would be helping each other “get better at getting better.” 

2.) Use a career pathways framework to build a more coherent youth employment system. 
A career pathway provides progressive levels of education, training, and support services to prepare people for employment and career advancement. As defined by the Center for Law and Social Policy, career pathways incorporate three features: a) multiple entry points, both for the well-prepared and those with limited skills, b) well-connected education, training, and support services within specific occupational or industry-based career opportunities, and c) multiple exit points at successively higher levels of skills or more senior employment opportunities.

This recommendation focuses on improving how different organizations (adult education, K-12, community college, nonprofits) interact with each other to provide a structured sequence of education, training and other services. That’s why a task force or collaborative effort led by such entities as RAISE DC, the Workforce Investment Council, and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education could be the appropriate vehicle to lead this effort.

Essential Features of a Career Pathway System

Source:  CLASP, “Shared Vision, Strong Systems:  The Alliance for Quality Career Pathways Framework Version 1.0” (2014)

In conclusion:  The status quo demands a continuous and targeted focus on quality improvement and system-building.  Too few young people in DC meet key educational and employment milestones in the transition to adulthood. We can do better.

DCAYA would like to thank Martha Ross for contributing to our weekly blog, as well as her valuable research towards improving outcomes for District youth.

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

Friday, January 23, 2015

Resources for Advocacy Season

It’s that time of year again, when the Wilson Building becomes abuzz with councilmembers and advocates meeting over issue areas, testifying at hearings, and deliberating on budget priorities. The DC Budget Season is particularly exciting though, because this is a time when community members can provide valuable input into how their city spends their tax dollars.

At the same time, these next few months can be a bit confusing, so we wrote this blog to help answer any lingering questions and offer resources to understand the DC Budget Season and how you can be involved.

Can anyone testify?

You must be a resident of the District of Columbia or work for an organization within the District of Columbia to testify. 
The Committee Chair will set the time limit for testimonies at the begin of the hearing, but often times, you get 2-3 minutes to testify. Although for some hearings, if you are representing an organization, you can get up to 5 minutes. If there are two people connected to your organization signed up to testify, however, the councilmember may choose to split your allotted time. Before testifying, you can check with the councilmember's staff to determine the length of your public testimony.  
Do note though, while you may have a limited time to speak on record, your written testimony may be any length. Written testimonies are very important for the councilmember to have on record so they can refer to it when questioning agency staff and use it as a resource to propose budget marks to council colleagues. Remember to bring 15 copies of your testimony to provide to the committee chairperson and committee members for their records.

How do you sign-up to testify?

You can call the councilmember's office, email the committee staffer, or sign-up online.  
On the day of the hearing, an official agenda with the list of people testifying is published on the DC Council website. From there, you can see whether you will be testifying near the beginning, middle, or end of the hearing so you can plan your day accordingly. Just be cautious, as committee chairs can jump around the agenda when people are absent, late, or added.

How should your testimony be structured?

Some of the most compelling testimonies are from community members who share their personal stories with councilmembers. Watch this powerful testimony of a young DC mom: (skip to 7:47). 
As advocates, we have the data sets and policy recommendations to really backup personal stories with concrete solutions. To make your testimony more robust, however, we recommend adding one recommendation to the end of your story which you can find in our Advocacy Agenda of 2015.

The general structure of a testimony would be:
  • Thank the Chairperson of the committee and the other councilmember’s in the room.
  • State your name and what Ward you live in and why you are testifying. 
  • Tell a piece of your story that will capture the councilmembers’ attention.
  • Explain why one recommendation resonates with your experience. 
  • Re-thank the Chairperson for listening to your testimony. 


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