Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Goodbye 2012!

This week's blog post is a message from DCAYA's Executive Director Maggie Riden. 

It’s been a tumultuous year here in the District, but as the dust settles in the wake of the election and we look ahead to 2013, we wanted to reach out: both to thank you for your ongoing work, and to acknowledge the collective impact DCAYA, our membership, and allies have realized in the last year.

In 2012 our coalition advocated for youth on the most pressing issues. We offered over 150 pieces of testimony at 25 different hearings, sent over 500 letters, emails, calls, tweets or post cards to DC Council, engaged in over 135 hours of direct advocacy to council members and other key decision makers and facilitated community input at over 50 different community convenings. This collective effort resulted in some significant outcomes; we:

· Safeguarded over $8 million dollars in funding to high quality youth development programming that supports thousands of low income and at risk youth;

· Realized ongoing improvements to our youth workforce development system; including an increase of $1.3 million dollars in public funding to year round programming;

· Increased supportive resources to homeless youth by over 50%;

· Informed the use of close to $1 million dollars in summer funding targeted to at risk youth.

These wins, achieved despite a number of hurdles, could not have been accomplished individually and genuinely illustrate the power of a collective approach to advocacy. While there is still work to be done, know that DCAYA is committed to building on these successes and will continue to provide: (1) meaningful research and analysis, (2) timely updates and information, (3) robust community engagement and mobilization and (4) opportunities to inform policy recommendations and connect with key decision makers.

Once more, thank you all for every hour of work you and your staff have put into supporting the creation of a true youth advocacy movement here in DC and know we, DCAYA staff and Board, look forward to continuing to work with the community in pursuit of lasting positive outcomes for District youth in the year to come.

This week's blog was also sent out to DCAYA members via our website. If you would like to receive updates from DCAYA please sign-up on

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Bit More on What It Takes to Get Young People Jobs

In last week’s blog post on disconnected youth, we focused a lot on why preventing young people from dropping out of high school is an important strategy in stemming the tide of youth disconnection. Dropping out is often a young person’s first step towards becoming “disconnected”, and thus it makes sense to focus resources on preventing this occurrence. However, as the Casey Report “Youth and Work” pointed out, it is not just high school dropouts that become disconnected youth. Many teens and young adults are disconnected not because they lack a high school credential, but because the forces of globalization and technology coupled with a generally weak economy have created a job market that values higher levels of educational attainment. Simply put, teens and young adults are getting squeezed out of an increasingly competitive job market.

So we know young people face a steep uphill battle when it comes to finding employment that they are qualified for, but how do we solve this? Job creation is no easy thing, so simply creating more jobs that young people are qualified for may not be the best answer. Forced retirement for the baby boomer generation to make room for new workers would likely be an unpopular option. However, if we focus our energies on creating young people who are qualified to enter the workforce we might have a winning strategy on our hands.

An oft cited reason for low levels of youth employment is that even low-wage work such as jobs in the retail and hospitality sector now require a high school diploma or equivalent credential (usually a GED). Communities need to stop merely lamenting this fact and take action to get more young people to finish high school. To do this, of course we need to improve high schools (as we mentioned last week) so that young people want to remain engaged and see value in doing so. However, we also have to remember that not all young people will follow the same path in achieving a high school credential or in acquiring secondary level skills.

Many students will graduate high school in four years, but this is not the case for everyone. Some students will take longer and will thus require more support along the way, and some will inevitably drop-out. Other students will graduate, but will be ill prepared for future study or the world of work. This is where a robust offering of educational and career pathways is absolutely essential, not only in curbing youth disconnection, but in ensuring all young people have access to the labor market.

Examples of different “pathways” include: traditional high schools that provide extra support to students who have fallen behind, alternative high schools, GED preparation/adult basic education programs and even remedial classes at the post-secondary level. These programs all vary in the models to engage young people, and they should. Young people leave educational institutions at various points in their development and thus one wholesale approach to re-engagement will not be successful. Something all of the programs need to have in common though, is a shared understanding that a high school credential is only the first step in getting young people into jobs.

We are lying to young people if we tell them that ending their educational journey at the high school level will put them on the path to long term success. Thus the end goal of any educational intervention must be preparation for a post-secondary opportunity. Living wage work is rooted in the occupations that require this level of education and we must convey labor market expectations to young people if we want them to be successful. This is not to say that we need every program to prepare students to go to a traditional four-year college. In fact the range of post-secondary options that will prepare youth for living wage work also include: two-year degrees, industry recognized certification programs, apprenticeships and other formal job training opportunities.

This range of educational options and training is vast and what’s more it fits a wide range of interests and aspirations. Furthermore, students can also easily “stack” post-secondary options to achieve incremental wage gains or simply to make themselves more competitive in the labor market (e.g. obtaining an Associates in Computer Science and an IT Help Desk Certification or a Nursing Assistant Certificate and eventually a Bachelors in Nursing). The point is by articulating and setting the goal that every program or institution must prepare young people for these kinds of post-secondary opportunities, we set young people up for long term success in the labor market. 

For more information on DCAYA's work around disconnected youth and youth employment please visit us at or contact our Policy Team.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Moving From Research to Results

The release of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s new report, “Youth and Work: Restoring Teen and Adult Connections to Opportunity” has garnered a lot of media attention this week and as such, we found it only fitting that we pay some attention to it as well. “Youth and Work” focuses on “disconnected youth”-youth who are neither in school nor working and here at DCAYA we are always happy when the media picks up stories about such important issues. However, even with all the research and press coverage about how much money disconnected youth cost society, how ending youth disconnection could help end the inter-generational cycle of poverty, or even how the collapse of the economy disproportionately affected young people; we still do not see very much progress being made on moving large numbers of young people into self-sustaining adulthood. 

“Youth and Work” offers up some clues as to why this is the case. For starters, education reform both nationally and here in the District has not gotten to a place yet where it can effectively cut off the supply of disconnected youth. Young people continue to under perform in, or drop out of high school in droves which is usually the first step in becoming a “disconnected youth”. Two of the most often cited factors in this decision include: boring or irrelevant coursework, and young people becoming parents. These barriers, if prevented, would go a long way in stemming the tide of disconnection. 

For instance,though making high school interesting and relevant to all students is by no means an easy task, there are certainly measures that that if implemented correctly would go a long way in preventing drop-out. Examples of drop-out prevention include: better integrating career and technical education (CTE) classes that offer direct connections to the workforce into high schools, ensuring schools are appropriately staffed with career and guidance counselors to advise students on course selection /career options, and better connecting academic coursework to "real world" experiences like summer jobs and internships.

Creating more pathways to high school graduation that integrate child support services and allow pregnant and parenting students to continue their education could also be another strategy in cutting off the "supply" of disconnected young people. For example, currently 21% of disconnected youth nationally are young parents. If we apply that percentage to the District (which we admit is imperfect) that means that 1,890 of our city’s young people are currently parenting while not working or attending school. If we could prevent just half of those young mothers and fathers from dropping out we could likely prevent over 1,000 more young people from becoming disconnected every year.

Another reason we have not seen a huge amount of progress in moving larger numbers of young people toward self-sustainability is that, as “Youth and Work” points out, the system that serves disconnected youth is not just one system, but rather a complicated web of services and supports which makes it inherently difficult for youth to navigate. Further complicating this issue are the funding silos that exist among education (both secondary and post-secondary), workforce, child welfare, juvenile justice and human services agencies that often have conflicting priorities and metrics for success. As the authors of “Youth and Work” put it, “despite rhetorical and legislative language encouraging cross-disciplinary and cross-system approaches, funding streams and programs remain largely categorical and fragmented.”

We cannot expect success if every government entity views only their current service population as “its people”. For instance young people who are a part of systems of care, like the child welfare or juvenile justice system, are at an exceedingly high risk of becoming “disconnected youth” and as such, young people who are transitioning out of those systems need extensive supports to achieve self-sufficiency once they “age out”. As self-sufficiency hinges on having a source of income, we would hope that the transition services offered to young people in systems of care involves the same high-quality educational, career exploration and foundational work experiences that we know put all youth on the right track. But what if the career training offered by the juvenile justice agency was not aligned with the services offered by a workforce agency (e.g. workforce readiness training, opportunities for early work)? Or what if a local college was unfamiliar with the educational vouchers young people in the child welfare system can utilize to attend classes and pay for books? When government agencies do not collaborate, blend resources, and share data, young people are forced to navigate these systems themselves, often to their detriment.

All this is not to say that we will never be able to move the needle on youth disconnection; however it is indicative of how much work still needs to be done if we want to see real results and not just more research and press coverage of youth disconnection. To this end, “Youth and Work” makes a number of recommendations for policy makers, communities and funders on how this could be achieved. We strongly recommend you check out the report and if you are interested in ways to end youth disconnection locally, we also suggest you check out:

Strengthening Career and Educational Pathways for DC Youth, Brookings Institution, 2011. 

Ripe for the Picking:  Opportunities for Private Investment to Affect Disconnected Youth in Washington, DC. DC Alliance of Youth Advocates, 2011.

Youth Voices on the DC Graduation Crisis. DC Alliance of Youth Advocates/ STEP Up DC, 2010.

Lastly, for those interested in DC-AYA's policy and advocacy work around disconnected youth please visit us at or contact our policy team.

This post was written by DCAYA Policy Analyst Anne Abbott.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Reducing Youth Homelessness by Investing in Stronger Families

This post is the fifth in a series of blogs in honor of National Youth Homelessness Awareness Month. This week's guest blog comes to us from Eddie Ferrer  the Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of DC Lawyers for Youth, a nonprofit organization that seeks to improve the DC juvenile justice system by advocating for reforms that promote positive youth development, effective legal representation, and supportive relationships between the community and DC’s youth.

Youth homelessness is a problem that should not exist in the Nation’s Capital. Unfortunately, the District’s approach to youth homelessness – much like its approaches to delinquency and child welfare – is reactive  and disjointed instead of proactive and part of a larger comprehensive youth development strategy. The reality of the matter is that youth homelessness, delinquency, and child maltreatment are all by-products of the same fundamental failure by the District – failing to confront and address the fact that poverty-stricken families in the District need additional support in order to be successful. As a city, we can continue to ignore this reality and continue to react to these problems as they are repeated in each successive generation of poor families in the District, or we can invest in proactive solutions that strengthen families and empower them to break the generational cycle of poverty and dysfunction.

With respect to youth homelessness specifically, recent research conducted by the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates provides insight into how to confront the problem at its source instead of addressing youth homelessness after it occurs. DCAYA’s survey research reveals that there are three broad buckets of factors that homeless youth attribute to their permanently leaving their home of origin: 1) family dysfunction; 2) economic issues; and 3) anti-social behaviors by the youth or parent.[i] Family dysfunction, which includes abuse and neglect as well as intense conflict in the home, was reported as the primary or secondary cause of leaving home by nearly half of the homeless youth surveyed. As such, strengthening families through the reduction of abuse, neglect, and familial conflict should become the primary goal in the fight against youth homelessness and a priority for the District of Columbia in its launch of a comprehensive youth development strategy.

To further the objective of strengthening families to reduce youth homelessness, the District should take the following three steps:

1) Pilot the Triple P Parenting program. The Triple P Parenting program is a multilevel system designed to improve parental competence, prevent or change dysfunctional parenting practices, and reduce family risk factors for child maltreatment and children’s behavioral and emotional problems.[ii] When implemented with fidelity,[iii] the Triple P Parenting program decreases instances of child maltreatment, decreases childhood hospitalizations, and decreases the need for foster care placements. The estimated cost of launching the Triple P Parenting program in the District, which would enable the program’s availability to all DC parents of youth ages 0 to 12, is approximately $11 million. The estimated cost savings to District taxpayers resulting from the program’s outcomes is approximately $53 million.[iv]

2) Expand D.C.’s repertoire of home visiting programs to include The Nurse-Family Partnership program. The Nurse–Family Partnership program provides low-income, first-time mothers of any age with home-visitation services from public health nurses.[v] The program addresses substance abuse and other behaviors that contribute to family poverty, subsequent pregnancies, poor maternal and infant outcomes, sub-optimal childcare, and limited opportunities for the children. When implemented with fidelity, the program reduces the instances of child maltreatment, reduces the likelihood that the mother or child will engage in future criminal activity, and increases the mother’s time between pregnancies. The estimated cost of providing NFP to every poor first time mother in DC is approximately $48 million. The estimated cost savings to District taxpayers resulting from the program’s outcomes is approximately $66 million.[vi]

3) Improve access to Functional Family Therapy. Functional Family Therapy (FFT) is a family-based prevention and intervention program for high-risk youth.[vii] While offered by a number of service providers in the District, I have had an incredibly difficult time actually getting FFT for the youth I represent in delinquency matters despite the intervention’s proven ability to reduce recidivism when administered with fidelity. Providing better access to FFT through delinquency matters, child welfare matters, and through contact with the Collaboratives should assist older youth and their families reduce the conflict in the home that leads to youth homelessness. The Washington State Institute of Public Policy estimates that society receives $10.42 in increased tax revenue and cost savings for every dollar invested in Functional Family Therapy.[viii]

Strengthening families in the District of Columbia is a worthwhile investment. In addition to reducing the instances of child maltreatment and familial conflict that cause youth homelessness, strengthening families will yield a host of additional benefits to the District, including better outcomes for youth, safer streets, and saving DC money that can be reinvested in addressing the other root causes of youth homelessness.

Eddie Ferrer is the Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of DC Lawyers for Youth.  During his 14 years in DC, Eddie has served as a tutor, coach, abuse & neglect compliance intern, special education advocate, juvenile defender, ANC Commissioner, Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Next Step Public Charter School, and Chair of the Board of the Campaign for Youth Justice.  He is a proud double Hoya, graduating with this B.S. in Business Administration in 2002 and his law degree in 2005.  

[i] Margaret Riden & Amanda Michelle Jones, DC Alliance of Youth Advocates, From the Streets to Stability: a study of youth homelessness in the District of Columbia, November 2011, available at
[ii] See also
[iii] Fidelity to the original program design is critical when implementing programs that have been evaluated and proven to work.  For a good overview of the concept of fidelity, see
[iv] DC Population estimates are based on data from the American Community Survey.  See  Cost-Benefit calculations are based on the Washington State Institute of Public Policy’s Return on Investment: Evidence-Based Options to Improve Statewide Outcomes, April 2012, available at
[v] See also
[vi] DC Population estimates are based on data from the American Community Survey.  See  Cost-Benefit calculations are based on the Washington State Institute of Public Policy’s Return on Investment: Evidence-Based Options to Improve Statewide Outcomes, April 2012, available at
[vii] See
[viii] DC Population estimates are based on data from the American Community Survey.  See  Cost-Benefit calculations are based on the Washington State Institute of Public Policy’s Return on Investment: Evidence-Based Options to Improve Statewide Outcomes, April 2012, available at

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Different Kind of "Youth" Homelessness

This post is the fourth in series of five in honor of National Homeless Youth Awareness Month. This week’s blogger is Christie Walser, the Executive Director of Project Create, an organization here in the District that exposes children and youth experiencing homelessness to the arts. It’s important to note, that the youth homelessness data we have been reporting on in our other blog posts does not include the population of young people that organizations like Project Create serves; specifically those children and youth who are still connected to their families but living in doubled up situations, in emergency shelters or in short term housing programs. The impact of unstable housing on this group of children and youth is, as you’ll hear from Ms. Walser, profound and we hope this piece helps to shed a light on this facet of homelessness here in the District. 

Art does not reproduce what we see; rather, it makes us see. (Paul Klee)

Current statistics on youth homelessness and poverty in Washington, D.C. are heartbreaking. In the District, nearly 30% of children live at or below the poverty line, a rate which is about 10% higher than the national child poverty rate. East of the Anacostia River, child (under age 18) poverty rates are even higher (40% in Ward 7 and nearly 50% in Ward 8). As poverty in D.C. increases, so does homelessness; the number of homeless families in the city rose 19% from 2011 to 2012. Tragically, there are nearly 2,000 children in homeless families in Washington, D.C. this year. [i]

We know that children and youth experience a wide array of problems due to their homelessness and poverty. Homeless children are three times more likely to exhibit emotional and behavioral problems than their housed counterparts. They are four times more likely to display delayed academic development. Poor children are also twice as likely to be suspended, expelled, or drop out of high school. [ii]

For nearly twenty years, Project Create has worked to counter the debilitating impact of homelessness and poverty on the lives of thousands of children and youth in Washington, D.C. In partnership with organizations that provide housing for homeless families (like SOME and Community of Hope), Project Create provides positive youth development, through arts education and enrichment, to at-risk, underserved District children. Our students are vulnerable kids who don't know where and when they'll be moving or who they'll encounter along the way -- who might help them, who might harm them.

In the face of the urgent needs of these children, how can art possibly make a difference? People often ask me—why arts education? I have seen, up close, the transformational power of art that occurs when our students put cameras to their eyes, hold drumsticks in their hands, or travel to see a masterpiece at the National Gallery—and then come home and paint what they saw. I witness the impact of art when our students sing and dance, sculpt clay for the first time, or display their artwork. Through creative expression, imagination, and the freedom of abstraction, these children come alive and their lit fuses cannot be extinguished. I’ve heard it said, and I believe, that “arts education is not a flower, but a wrench.” [iii]

Art makes it possible for children to recover from and be resilient in tough times. For Project Create students and their families, many of whom live in high-poverty neighborhoods East of the Anacostia River, it can be difficult for them to find, in their own world, the beauty and creative potential of life when they are so busy simply surviving. But, in the lives of our students, art lifts their spirits and grants them creative opportunities to transcend the limitations of their lives with hope for the future. Through art they learn to communicate more effectively and to act as their own advocates. And these critical skills stay with them and continue to enrich them for the rest of their lives.

A new study by the National Endowment for the Arts found that at-risk kids exposed to the arts had better academic outcomes, higher career goals, and greater civic engagement. Thus, they contribute more to their communities, achieve more themselves, and have higher aspirations and hope—all from engaging in art![iv]

Art is not a luxury. It’s a necessity. The act of artistic creation is transformative, and, for the large population of children in our city who are experiencing poverty and homelessness, the potential impact of this transformation is even more necessary and more urgent.

Christie Walser joined Project Create as Executive Director in January 2011. Her personal and professional experience in Washington, D.C. over the last two decades includes nonprofit administration, arts management, child advocacy, and community theater. Ms. Walser holds a Master of Public Administration degree, along with a Certificate in Nonprofit Management. She still can't draw.

[i] Statistics provided by Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, Inc. (updated October 2012).

[ii] “The Characteristics and Needs of Families Experiencing Homelessness,” National Center on Family Homelessness, December 2011.

[iii] “Re-Investing in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future through Creative Schools,” President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, May 2011.

[iv] “The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth: Findings from Four Longitudinal Studies,” National Endowment for the Arts, March 2012.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

LGBTQ Homeless Youth Act of 2012

Yesterday, Council Members Cheh and Graham introduced a piece of legislation (LGBTQ Homeless Youth Act (B19-1012) of 2012) seeking to amend the Human Services Reform act , the act that defines the District's continuum of care for homeless services . The timing of this legislation is auspicious in that November is Homeless Youth Awareness Month, and hopefully a signal that the Council has taken the clear and immediate issue of youth homelessness to heart and is committed to taking the steps necessary to address this issue locally.

DCAYA's Executive Director Maggie Riden, in addition to a number of DCAYA member organizations and allies, testified before the Committee on Human services on the proposed amendment. Our testimony focused on why LGBTQ youth are at an especially high risk for experiencing homelessness, but also why the current set of services offered by the District is woefully inadequate. For instance, nationally up to 40% of the nation’s homeless youth identify as sexual minorities and available local data and research tell us as many as 2,000 LGBTQ youth are pushed out or make the decision to leave their homes each year. We also know that demand for LGBTQ services rapidly outpaces supply. Youth providers have reported waiting lists in excess of 90 young people.

Furthermore, national surveys tell us that when LGBTQ youth are in adult shelters, they are 10 times more likely than their straight peers to be sexually abused or to experience sexual misconduct by staff. Though many youth-serving housing providers in DC have taken steps to ensure staff training and safe spaces are provided for LGBTQ youth, these appropriate placements are often at capacity. This leaves staff to find referrals where quality of care may be unknown. 

Currently the only housing service in the District dedicated to homeless LGBTQ youth is  an 8-bed transitional living home run by Transgender Health Empowerment. There are currently zero beds available specifically to LGBTQ youth for emergency shelter/respite care.The reality is that we as a community lack capacity to meet the most basic need of nighttime safety for every youth; and we fall particularly short for those who are sexual minorities. 

DCAYA and our partners also offered up a number of recommendations to Council Members Graham and Cheh to help strengthen the legislation that we very much hope are taken into account moving forward. You can read full DCAYA's testimony and that of our partners on, and don't forget to we're celebrating Youth Homelessness Awareness Month ALL of November! Learn more about our photo and awareness campaign here.

For more information on DCAYA's advocacy around homeless and unstably housed youth, please visit us at or email us here.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Youth Homeless Awareness Month Means Guest Bloggers!

This week we welcome Andre Wade from the National Alliance to End Homelessness as our guest blogger. This blog is the second in our month long series of blogs in honor of National Youth Homelessness Awareness Month. To find out how you can get more involved throughout the month of November and year round
please visit online at

Homeless Youth Awareness Month: 
What We Know, What We Need

November is Homeless Youth Awareness Month, a time to bring attention to what some call a ‘hidden population,’ because in some areas these youth are present but invisible in the community. Consequently, many cities across the nation are unaware of the actual number of youth experiencing homelessness in their community. Therefore, cities are unaware of these youths’ characteristics and needs. This begs the question, “Who are these youth and what do they need?”

We hear a lot about the 1.7 million minor youth that experience a runaway or homelessness episode each year. Well, if you break down these numbers you will find that 1.3 million minor youth return home quite quickly, but approximately 400,000 minor youth are homeless for a week or more and need shelter, housing, and services. An additional 150,000 young people ages 18-24 that experience homelessness each year are in the adult system. These families are headed by young parents who have very young children.

Youth experiencing homelessness need a variety of services and housing options to respond to their crisis to get them off of the street and into safety. Most youth who come into contact with youth homelessness providers need shelter. They also need help to re-connect to their family through family intervention services, which reunifies youth with their family. Family intervention is something all youth should be provided regardless of age, parental status, sexual orientation, or gender identity when it’s safe to do so. Family intervention can address the core issue that led to them leaving the home. 

When youth are unable to go back home, developmentally appropriate housing options should be made available. Often time youth are provided with transitional housing for up to 18 months. While they are in housing they are also able to access services such as case management, education, employment, and counseling. Additionally, other housing models should be available such as rapid re-housing, and permanent supportive housing – depending upon the needs of the youth.

For young parents who are struggling with homelessness, Early Childhood Home Visiting Programs can be valuable partners, for youth who have little social supports in place. These programs provide supports that are designed to improve the safety, developmental outcomes, and health of the child, while increasing the skills and self-sufficiency of the parents.

In January 2013 communities across the nation will conduct HUD mandatory bi-annual counts of people experiencing homelessness. For the first time, youth ages 18-24 are a recognized population for communities to report to HUD. The data collected will give communities better knowledge of the prevalence of youth homelessness so that interventions can be sized and policies can be created to solve the problem. With more data and research we’ll be able to better size interventions to solve this epidemic.

André C. Wade is a Program and Policy Analyst at the National Alliance to End Homelessness. His portfolio includes runaway and homeless youth, youth exiting foster care, LGBTQ youth homelessness, and commercial sexual exploitation of children. Currently, André is a Board of Director for StandUp for Kids, and Advisory Board member of Cyndi Lauper’s project, Forty to None, André is a former advisory board member for the Federal Runaway and Homeless Youth Training and Technical Assistance Center. André earned a Bachelor's degree in Psychology and a Master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Join Our Advocacy on Behalf of Homeless Young People!

November is National Youth Homelessness Awareness month and the need for more awareness and action around this issue in the District is very real

Youth homelessness is a problem we should all care about, not just because it is a symptom of other issues like child abuse/neglect and family economic insecurity, but because once young people experience homelessness their risk of other negative outcomes skyrockets. Housing instability affects a young person’s ability to hold down a job and/or go to school which has many lingering economic effects on well-being and self-sustainability. Furthermore, youth experience emotional trauma when they disconnect from their family of origin and this is sustained throughout the period of housing instability. A young person’s physical health will also clearly be adversely affected by homelessness. [1] Youth who live on the street are consequently more likely to be involved in high risk behaviors like illegal activity (substance abuse, crime) and survival sex (prostitution).[2]

 For young parents experiencing homelessness there is a further risk of negative health/developmental outcomes for their custodial children; the effects of which will ripple into their own adulthoods. Furthermore, the longer a youth has been homeless, the more barriers to self-sustainability they must overcome, and the greater the risk they will end up as a chronically homeless adult.

Clearly the stakes are high when it comes to homeless young people, but how do we begin to address this issue? First, we have to ask some difficult questions: 1) How big is the problem? 2) What are the characteristics of homeless youth in the District? and, 3) What can we do about it?

How big is the problem?

Nationally, it’s suggested that as many as 8% of all youth under age 18 will experience homelessness each year.[3] Using that math, as many as 7,354 District youth could be experiencing homelessness annually.[4] But why do we apply the national average to the District, instead of relying on localized data? There is currently no exact number or even a good approximation of the number of homeless young people in the District. This is due in large part to the population’s lack of visibility. The District’s homeless young people are often not the evident “street” population (think chronically homeless adults) we see across the city. Young people who are “homeless” are often staying with relatives, friends, and in many cases strangers “couch surfing”. While on its face this may not seem like a bad situation, it is unfortunately just that.  At best these situations are unstable and piecemeal short-term solutions, but in worst case scenarios young people who have already experienced the trauma of leaving their family of origin are exposed to dangerous and damaging situations such as further abuse or exploitation.

 In 2011, DCAYA piloted the first local study on the nature of youth homelessness in DC. (you can find the DCAYA study here.)  In just a two week period, we made contact with 330 youth who were living in a shelter, in transitional housing, on the street, or who were “couch surfing”.  The fact that we were able to locate so many youth in such a short period of time suggests that the homeless youth population of DC is indeed close to the national figure of 8% of all youth.

What are the characteristics of homeless youth in DC?

DCAYA’s study sought to get a better handle on this question. What we found was that homeless youth in the District are a dynamic group of young people struggling to secure basic needs, while also trying to acquire the skills necessary to make the already difficult transition from adolescence to adulthood. The young people we talked to left home for a variety of reasons ranging from neglect/abuse, and family conflict to housing loss for the family of origin. Other key characteristics of this population at the local level included:
·         A high rate of youth who were currently or formerly system-involved (youth from the juvenile justice or child welfare system);
·         A high proportion of homeless youth who were themselves parents;
·         An overall lack of employment as a problem for youth in the District, which contributed to economic insecurity as well as unstable housing situations.

One issue worth mentioning with our survey data, was that due to the small sample size, we did not capture a significant number of LGBTQ youth. Nationally LGBTQ youth represent between 30% and 43% of those served by drop-in centers, street outreach programs, and housing programs.[5] While this could also be the case in DC, more data collection is needed before we can accurately gauge the size and needs of the homeless LBGTQ population locally.

What can we do?

Clearly the circumstances for homeless youth are dire, but there is some good news. For one, we know that prevention really is the best cure when it comes to youth homelessness. As such, strategies such as providing housing support and intensive resources to youth exiting or aging out of systems of care and ensuring whenever possible that families have the support and resources they need to stay together and in their homes are both great ways to keep young people stable and healthy.

We also know through ample research on best practices that certain program models and supports show promising results for youth who are currently experiencing homelessness.[6] Many of the effective program models; youth-specific housing and wrap-around support programs among them - have been in the District since 1974 and have grown in number especially in the last 20 years. Unfortunately, the establishment of quality outreach, shelter, and transitional housing services for youth has simply not been able to keep pace with demand. The District’s capacity for homeless youth is currently only 216 beds. We KNOW this is not enough. Youth housing providers in DC report continuous high “turn-away” rates and waiting lists that stretch into the double digits. Furthermore, those lists only capture youth who actively seek out housing assistance. Clearly the need for resources catered to this population is great, but presently largely unmet.

By investing in both preventative measures that keep youth from experiencing homelessness in the first place as well as ensuring that those  youth who do experience homelessness have clear and effective pathways back to their families of origin or to economic self-sufficiency the District can ensure that that young people are on positive trajectories towards adulthood. Not everyone agrees that these investments are worthwhile however, so we need YOU to get involved, spread the word, and tell our elected officials that TOGETHER WE CAN END YOUTH HOMELESSNESS!

You can enter our photo campaign to raise awareness about youth homelessness in the District here

If you want to go beyond sending in a picture, join our advocacy action team here to receive updates/alerts for policy and community advocacy actions.

Also check out ALL OF OUR ACTIVITIES during the month of November in honor of National Homeless Youth Awareness Month.

[1] Ibid.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Burt, Martha (2007).  Understanding Homeless Youth: Numbers, Characteristics, Multi-System Involvement and Intervention Options. Testimony before the US House Committee on Ways and Means.
[4] US Census Bureau (2011). State & County QuickFacts.
[5] True Colors fund report
[6] For more information on models please see the National Network for Youth Recommendations for Systems Enhancement found at:

Monday, October 15, 2012

Partnership or Pilot: What is the future of Out of School Time in DC?

From California to Arkansas, states and localities are crafting agreements and funding initiatives that promote new kinds of partnerships between school districts and their neighboring communities. As reported in a recent article by Education Week, these “ joint-use partnerships” are cropping up to tackle all sorts of education and social issues while maximizing the use of public resources. The partnerships address a range of youth development  needs through programming including academic support to both teachers and students, health programming, social service provision and enrichment activities; all provided on location – at schools - by local community organizations and businesses.  These partnerships differ from historical relationships between out-of-school time providers, according to Education Week, because unlike in the past, the partners are sharing a vision for community improvement instead of being driven solely by lack of space or limited finances.

In the District the idea of the building joint-partnerships is not new. Over the last decade, many community partners working with DCPS advocated strongly for a more integrated and effectively coordinated system. This effort came to bear close to 6 years ago. In 2006, DC was one of five cities to begin the implementation of a national pilot project for OST coordination lead by RAND Education and funded by the Wallace Foundation. The three year implementation grant awarded to the District at $8 million, had the goal of developing and improving OST on the system wide level.

During this time the DC Children and Youth Investment Trust (the Trust) lead community partners and city agencies to identify a lack of programming targeted towards middle school aged youth. This finding, lead the Trust to propose the creation of high-quality OST programming, coordinated by a full-time in school coordinator that was piloted in five middle schools .The point of this pilot? “To demonstrate what better coordination and alignment might accomplish”[1].

In the last year of the Wallace Foundation grant DCPS, recognizing the strength of the programming in the pilot schools, decided to scale up the model. Schools became open to community partners during afterschool hours with janitorial and security services centrally coordinated by the DCPS Office of Out of School Time Programming. This same office became responsible for vetting the community partners and most importantly for placing Full-Time After-School coordinators in each school to work with the service providers, principals, teachers, and parents to improve coordination and service delivery. In the last two years, this office took the focus on coordination and quality a step further, initiating work with community partners, DCPS central office, principals and teachers to align what students learned during the school day (newly defined common core standards) with the academic focus and objectives of after school programming.

Since inception, the school-based coordinator model and the work of the Office of Out of School Time Programming has evolved to be a critical component of the District’s out of school time programming infrastructure. By organizing school based services, coordinating with community partners and constantly striving to ensure quality and access, the OSTP has been integral to achieving equitable access to these services.

Fast forward to today’s system of out-of-school time programming and sadly, we do not see the same rosy picture we saw in that last year of the Wallace Foundation/Rand Project implementation.

This change is linked to a new initiative called “Proving What’s Possible” which began in June 2012 when DCPS announced that grants (from an unidentified source within the DCPS budget) would go to 59 schools, with amounts ranging from $10,000 to $490,000 to implement “innovative programming”  that would improve academic achievement through some combo of three specific intervention strategies: “time, technology and talent”. The grants are meant to help accomplish one of DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson’s strategic goals for DCPS– to increase proficiency rates in struggling schools by 40% by 2017. 

Approximately 85% of the $10.4 million did go to the 40 lowest performing schools in DCPS (DCFPI 2012) who undoubtedly could use the extra funding to better support student level outcomes.[2]  However, not all of those schools wrote in funding for Out of School activities. While, some schools are pursuing really innovative partnerships, or targeting extended and innovative teaching to higher need students- for the rest- the overall impact remains, in many ways unclear.

Those schools awarded a PWP major grant will not have afterschool programming- and no coordinator unless they wrote this into their grant proposal. For the remaining schools- they are now operating with 3 million fewer dollars to support OST programming, a loss that significantly changed the coordination of services.  This year, there were no afterschool coordinators working in high schools. At the middle and elementary schools rather than one coordinator per school, DCPS was forced to move to a cluster model wherein each coordinator is responsible for facilitating afterschool for 2-3 different schools. PWP essentially dismantled a significant component of the best-practice system of out-of-school time service delivery that the Wallace/Rand project laid out just three years ago. 

Further complicating matters are questions of oversight, impact and quality control. For example, within the PWP grantees there were 13 different extended day programs proposed. The metrics used to assess the impact of interventions (on all three focus areas, time, talent and technology) have yet to be clearly articulated by DCPS. And while innovation can lead to incredible impact, unless there is a clear way to track how this investment has led to improved outcomes, such a rapid change in infrastructure clearly comes with risks and potential costs.

Bottom line: For parents, principals, community organizations and students many questions remain.

Is this meant to be – at least partially – a replacement strategy for OST programs coordinated with CBO’s? If so, what are the expected outcomes? How will all these various programs be evaluated? Is there a sustainability plan for the extended day or after-school models?

Why the elimination of the coordinator positions recommended by the Wallace/Rand/Trust initiative after such a lengthy (and expensive) grant implementation process?

What’s the purpose/method behind any of the various 13 different extended day programs? And what’s the real impact on out of school time program access given the cuts to the OSTP office?

We’d love to hear your experiences – both as community member organizations and parents.  What’s working?  What’s not? Are you partnering with schools -- how is it going? Are you not partnering with schools? Are your children able to access OST programming at your local school? And what are your questions and concerns about all this?

We heard a bit from a number of providers at last week's Quarterly Breakfast with DCPS, but we're sure there are people out there who still have experiences and recommendations to share about the future relationship between DCPS and community based providers. We invite you to share those with us!

If you would like to hear more about DCAYA's work around the out of school time sector,  or would like to submit a comment or set up a meeting, please contact the DCAYA Policy Team.

[1] Hours of Opportunity Report p. 24
[2] A full list of the awards can be found at DCFPI, here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

SYEP Oversight Re-Cap

The regular Wilson Building press corps was absorbed with transportation issues on Monday afternoon and as a result the general public and the advocacy community did not hear much about the first hearing conducted by the new Committee on Jobs and Workforce Development. While the lack of press attendance at the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) hearing was regrettable there are a lot of issues to report on here in the District and only so many reporters covering the local beat. Fortunately, DCAYA was at the hearing and we thought we would share some of the interesting tidbits.

Council Member McDuffie led the hearing off with a nod to the program’s troubled history stating, “The Department of Employment Services’ Summer Youth Employment Program is one of the most well known programs run by DOES. Unfortunately in the past it has been well known for the wrong reasons, but under the tenure of Director Mallory the program has definitely seen changes for the better.”  Council Member McDuffie’s statement was completely on point. We have come a long way since the days when 20,000+ program participants were warehoused in school cafeterias being paid either for doing nothing or not being paid at all. The amount of positive change that the program has experienced was a major theme of the hearing and many of the witnesses agreed with Council Member McDuffie that the program has indeed changed for the better.

However, a few witnesses at Monday’s hearing dared to ask the question: “Is simply being better good enough”? For instance, DCAYA pointed out in our testimony that while administratively the program has made important strides, it still lacks key programmatic elements that are consistently recognized as signs of quality in youth workforce programming. Among these: a clear mission/vision, defined evaluation metrics and developmentally appropriate program expectations and service delivery strategies that are clearly articulated and disseminated to program partners (in this case the work sites and supervisors).

Martha Ross from the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Project, who has written extensively about youth unemployment in DC, also pointed out several elements of the program that were causes for concern including confusion around primary and secondary program goals, uneven experiences among participants, and a lack of buy- in from the business community. Ross observed that SYEP’s goals of providing income, positive/enriching experiences for youth, and job placements with well-defined skill and employment-related outcomes are all worthy and not necessarily mutually exclusive.  However, in practice, the blending of the goals does tend to lead to “less of a true employment experience and more of an income supplement and developmental experience for the youth, which implies that the employer/host site is less of a supervisor and more of a camp counselor.”   

Council Member McDuffie also challenged the idea that “better” was synonymous with high-quality programming .He stated, “we cannot rest on our laurels” with regard to recent program successes and asked DOES some very tough questions about how they ensure program quality, track participant outcomes, and how SYEP fits into a larger youth workforce system.  This last point is especially important given the testimony of a few host sites, as well as DCAYA that, the six-weeks of programming offered by SYEP was NOT enough time to comprehensively teach young people the occupational skills and knowledge they need to succeed in the labor market. Perhaps one of the strongest articulations of this reality came from Tim Jones, the Teen Program Director from Martha’s Table. In describing the success the teenagers in his program achieved – 22 matriculated into a post-secondary option- Mr. Jones attributed this outcome more to participation in Martha’s Table’s year-round program than the six week SYEP. Paul Cohn from Cohn’s Kitchen testified that SYEP on its own, while valuable, is not enough: “we need greater investment and emphasis on ongoing year long programs.”

We wholeheartedly agree with Tim and Paul’s points. If we want our young people to successfully enter and thrive in the labor market, both in the short and the long term, experiences gained over the summer months must be better connected to year-round opportunities. The opportunities must be both school-based (e.g. academic remediation, internships and career and technical education) and non-school based (e.g. part-time jobs and even unsubsidized full time employment where appropriate). Perhaps Council Member McDuffie said it best as the very beginning of the hearing when he said, “looking at SYEP not just as a summer job for kids or as a way to keep them off the streets but rather but as an important peg in our education and workforce development programming will truly allow us to maximize the potential of SYEP.”

Overall the hearing provided a great overview of the many ways that DOES can continue to improve on the services it offers young people via SYEP and maybe more importantly it brought out SYEP's inherent limitation as a short-term employment program  While this blog post certainly did not capture every piece of testimony or every answer to every question we hope our little re-cap was helpful and We'll continue to work hard to make sure the city does not mistake "better" with good.

Copies of some of the testimony given at Monday’s hearing are available via the DCAYA website. You can watch the full hearing on the Council’s Website here.

To learn more about DCAYA's policy and advocacy around youth workforce development, please contact Policy Analyst, Anne Abbott.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Want Some Pro-Bono Corporate Support?

This post was written by The Advisory Board Company's Community Impact Senior Director Graham McLaughlin. Graham is also one of the newest members of the DCAYA Board of Directors.

In my role as a Senior Director within The Advisory Board Company’s “Community Impact” program I am fortunate to meet with corporate and non-profit leaders as well as keep abreast of the insights of thought leaders in both sectors.

I learn a tremendous amount from these leaders, but I’m continually surprised by one pervasive notion among this group, especially non-profit funders.  Specifically, the belief that in order to thrive non-profits must adopt corporate principles and become more efficient.  As a member of a firm that focuses on best practice insights and technology solutions enabling greater efficiency through data-driven management, I certainly agree with the importance of efficient and effective practices, however, I would argue no one sector has a monopoly in this area.

No broad stroke can be applied to all organizations in a particular sector, but I do think on average my corporate colleagues and I can learn a tremendous amount from well-run non-profits on how to stretch a dollar effectively and build a framework that is purpose and profit maximizing.  At the same time, corporations are relentlessly driven by improving outcomes and effectiveness, and can hopefully provide our non-profit (and political) colleagues support in measuring impact and then investing in areas yielding the most effective outcomes.

The beauty of pro bono work is that it can take this macro-level concept of learning from each other and apply it to solve specific social problems.  The Advisory Board is fortunate to partner with many youth-oriented DC-area non-profits that are tremendous at what they do, and therefore develop skills and leadership abilities in our employees that would take years of corporate experience to obtain, while at the same time also utilizing our areas of expertise to further critical but underdeveloped areas that enable these partners to exponentially increase the scope of impact and overall effectiveness of their mission-driven work.

DC-AYA is one such partner, as our many of its members.  For instance, Advisory Board teams have helped BUILD DC develop a methodology for evaluating potential partnerships as well as the health of current collaborations, recently reviewed and updated the collateral and messaging strategy for Urban Alliance to ensure the organization’s mission was conveyed consistently and effectively across different stakeholder groups, and had a technical team partner with the LatinAmerican Youth Center’s CIO to provide an IT assessment of current and potential systems.

These are only three examples of the many organizations we are proud to have partnered with that count themselves as members of the DC Alliance for Youth Advocates. Due to the mutually beneficial partnerships to date with your peers, and our strong desire to provide access to a brighter future for ALL youth, I am excited to announce our upcoming 2nd annual Week of Service and with it a call to action if you are in need of skills-based or other volunteering support.

The Advisory Board Company is on pace to donate over 13,000 hours of service this year, with approximately 2,500 of those hours being delivered during the October 1-5th Week of Service.  Examples of impact during the week include a“branding blitz” put on by our strategic marketing and design services teams, our research team dedicating a day to finding best practice answers to strategic questions or issues of concern for non-profits, and numerous groups going out into the community to have a hands-on impact.

If your organization is in need of skills-based or other support during this week (or in general), please do not hesitate to contact me, as our firm is excited to partner with organizations that are excellent at what they do and can use the complementary expertise of our employees to drive positive social impact and mutual professional growth. 

We are excited to continue to learn from the amazing work that is accomplished by our colleagues in the DC non-profit community, and hope that we can provide complementary support in our areas of strength to ensure a mutually beneficial partnership.