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.