Friday, May 27, 2011

Taking Care of Business (Sorta)

This week's blog post is the last in our series about the effects of last year's budget cuts (FY'11) on youth this summer. This week, our friends at Urban Alliance were kind enough to let their Chief of Staff, Sean Segal have a few spare moments to guest blog for us. Special thanks to Sean for gracing our blog with his writing and sharing his thoughts on this year’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP)!

Year after year, SYEP has been plagued by cost-overruns, poor management, and a lack of youth development principles. While providing jobs for youth is a noble and needed goal for the District government, in the past, SYEP has hurt more than it has helped and done a disservice to District youth – often teaching youth that a “job” means getting paid whether or not you work.

With all this in mind, the changes implemented for the summer of 2011 are both encouraging and long overdue. To make the program more manageable, SYEP is being scaled down by 10,000 youth. Youth are being required to invest their own time and energy in a more detailed application process. All work supervisors have been required to attend training in youth development principles and DOES has talked about being stricter when it comes to placements so that youth have a real opportunity to gain valuable work experience. While there have still been some logistical problems – such as announcing a change in the maximum number of hours youth will be allowed to work just this week (even though it was legislated last year) – SYEP IS moving in the right direction.

With changes, however, always come unintended consequences. This year, 10,000 fewer youth will have the opportunity to participate in SYEP. With the youth unemployment rate currently over 50%, it is not as though young people can easily go seek out alternative employment opportunities. Further, when you consider the new steps youth had to take to register, and the fact that the program was full in less than 5 days, you can easily guess that the youth who did not register were the youth that had no one pushing them, did not have internet access, or had some other extenuating circumstance that prevented them from registering. These disengaged youth are the ones who need programs like SYEP the most. Making SYEP a smaller, more targeted program that offers real job skills is the right move. But this move MUST be paired with strategies, and with appropriate funding, to engage the disconnected youth population.

It would be hypocritical not to acknowledge that DOES implemented many of the recommendations that the provider community has given in the past few years. However, the aforementioned externalities of these decisions highlight the fact that despite DOES' attempts to improve services for youth, the larger District government has made no comprehensive plan for youth employment or youth engagement. When you combine the cuts to SYEP, with cuts to funding for youth programming city-wide, thousands of youth will be on the streets with nothing to do this summer.

The DC Council needs to recognize that youth programs are interconnected and are most effective when they are well coordinated. When funding is cut for programs like SYEP and agencies like CYITC (the Trust) and DCPS, earmarks to non-profits are eliminated, and human services funding takes an additional hit, you are cutting services to the same youth over and over again. When youth have nowhere to go this summer, and additionally have nothing to do, no one should be surprised.

Thanks to Sean AGAIN for sharing his thoughts with us! For more info on the numerous cuts to youth programs this summer please look over our previous blog posts. WAMU 88.5's Kavitha Cardoza also did a short piece on the crisis in which DCAYA's Executive Director was interviewed it is available here.

For more information on The Urban Alliance please visit their website.

Individuals interested in being involved with DCAYA's advocacy and policy work around youth workforce development may contact Anne Abbott: anne(at)

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