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 http://www.dc-aya.org/sites/default/files/content/ya_essay_r3.pdf
[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 http://www.colorado.edu/cspv/blueprints/Fidelity.pdf.
[iv] DC Population estimates are based on data from the American Community Survey. See http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml. 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 http://www.wsipp.wa.gov/rptfiles/12-04-1201.pdf.
[vi] DC Population estimates are based on data from the American Community Survey. See http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml. 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 http://www.wsipp.wa.gov/rptfiles/12-04-1201.pdf.
[vii] See http://www.crimesolutions.gov/ProgramDetails.aspx?ID=122.
[viii] DC Population estimates are based on data from the American Community Survey. See http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml. 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 http://www.wsipp.wa.gov/rptfiles/12-04-1201.pdf.