Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Youth Homelessness: A Byproduct of DC Neglect

Recent media coverage of child and family homelessness has expressed a newfound outrage concerning the number of children living in homeless shelters here in the District. Add to this that DCPS counted 2, 453 homeless children/youth in that system and you may think there is something new and terribly wrong going on in the city. However, while it is terribly wrong that thousands of youth and children are homeless, unfortunately this is by no means a new phenomenon. The counts vary from year to year, but these kinds of numbers of homeless youth and children both at the DC General shelter and in DCPS are par for the course - particularly in the last 3 years. DCAYA has frequently discussed who these kids are and how family interventions offer hope for the prevention of youth homelessness. But since this seems to be a hot topic, allow us to turn to some ideas on how we can facilitate a system- wide approach to ameliorating this issue.

First and foremost, we cannot continue to focus on just the shelter issue. Yes, too many individuals and families are in shelter housing at the moment, but overcrowding and horrid conditions at shelters are a symptom of a much larger failure in safety net service provision. If we are going to be embarrassed and outraged by the conditions we force homeless children, individuals and families into, we need to be just as outraged by the lack of affordable housing and comprehensive service provision that would have prevented homelessness in the first place.

Second, we need to acknowledge that regardless of how or where services/interventions occur, homeless children and youth are all “our” kids. This means that we cannot simply pass them off from agency to agency or program to program and think about them as someone else’s problem. Regardless of how a young person comes to be in need, opportunities can lift a young person up from crisis, while a lack of opportunities can further compound and extend problems. Furthermore, homeless young people are in severe need of supports and services to get them back on track. This is exactly where the need for homeless young people to be “our” kids rather than “their” kids is the most crucial.

For example, we know the role of systems of care play in preventing homelessness is a large one. Our data suggests as much as 40% of the homeless youth population has had previous contact with the Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) or the Department of Youth Rehabilitative Services (DYRS). However, we also know that unemployment is another major driver of youth homelessness and it comes as no surprise that homeless youth in DC were typically unemployed (80%) as reported in our 2011 homeless youth survey. It is not too far a jump to assume then, that many of the same youth that exit systems of care also struggle with finding employment. But, when we worry about system involvement and unemployment as two separate issues, we just start passing young people through different systems rather than wrapping supports around them in a comprehensive way. This is a surefire way not to recognize positive outcomes like housing stability and self-sufficiency.

So, where should the city be headed if we really want system-wide reform? What’s needed is for DC to establish a “Central Youth Office” – a coordinating body of some kind that can take whole-hearted responsibility for the realities and demands of this overlapping youth population; to collect and analyze cross-cutting data, develop programs in tandem with other agencies, with clear needs and goals defined for youth and young families. Several cities across the nation have already established such offices and the District should join them and we could also use the model used by our new coordinating entity for education, Raise DC.

It is worth mentioning that numerous District agencies were present at the recent Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) meeting, and were active participants in a discussion focused on how to improve coordination of services and prevention programming to combat youth homelessness in the District. This is a good start but further coordination could do even more. As we head into this year’s budget and performance oversight hearings, please be sure to take a moment and hit on the importance of cross system supports and coordination. Until we’re working collectively and thinking in terms of prevention and intervention across systems and supports, the root causes that lead to youth homelessness will remain. Council can play a major role in compelling and overseeing cross system collaboration- so implore them on behalf of DC’s most valued asset: children and youth.

This blog was written by DCAYA Policy Analyst Susan Ruether. If you would like to receive more information about youth homelessness in DC please feel free to contact Susan at or visit the DCAYA website to learn about the issues effecting our Districts youth.

Don't forget to Follow us on Facebook and Twitter too!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Youth-Led Talks Youth Employment

The below post is from Debohnei Reed, a participant in the Sasha Bruce YouthLed Program. Youth-Led has been working with DCAYA over the past few months to accomplish their goals around creating more opportunities for young people to gain work experience beyond the Summer Youth Employment Program which only serves young people for six-weeks out of the year.

On February 11, 2013 my colleagues and I attended a meeting with Ward 8 Council Member Marion Barry. Previously Council Member Barry was the Mayor of DC. One of his largest initiatives was the creation of the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP). For this reason we were hoping he would support us and our plan for creating youth jobs.

We prepared for our meeting by doing research on the costs of SYEP. We determined the difference in cost between serving one youth during the summer (at the SYEP wage for 16-21 year olds) and serving one youth year round. We then developed a proposal to support youth in high school and youth who are currently out of school with year round jobs. Our group decided to start with trying to add 50 year round jobs.

Members of Sasha Bruce Youth Led prepare for their
meeting with Council Member Marion Barry.
Because our meeting was on a Monday afternoon, our group went into work on a Sunday to make sure we were as ready as we needed to be to meet with Council Member Barry. Practice occurred throughout the day as we recited what we had to say and asked each other “did I sound good?” which served as a great help.The next day when we  arrived at the Wilson Building, we didn’t get seen as quickly as we thought but that also served as a help because we had more time to practice and even laugh a little. Finally we entered Council Member Barry’s office and introduced ourselves which was followed by a little story telling from the Council Member himself.

After introductions, we described our plan for year round jobs. We picked the issue of year round jobs because our group sees a lot of issues with youth unemployment in the city.We told Council Member Barry that while 14,000 youth in the summer youth employment program could be seen as a good thing,  the negative consequence of such a large number of youth is that some programs are overrun with young people and some are not providing authentic skills for youth. We also spoke on how we felt an evaluation of SYEP was needed because there is no way of knowing if job sites are providing youth workers with real job skills.  Our solution to this issue is to transition a portion of summer youth jobs into year round youth jobs. We told Council Member Barry how it would be beneficial to the community and youth because businesses would have more workers to help therefore making them run more efficiently. It would also save them money because they would not have to pay workers themselves.We also informed him on how we already had businesses that would take youth.

At the end of the meeting Council Member Barry told us that he was a big supporter of efforts to employ more young people and that he was supportive of our proposal.We were pleased with the Council Member’s comments on how he would like to see more money going into year around jobs. He also agreed with us on developing an outside evaluation system for the SYEP. In our eyes the meeting went well and our points were heard. END

Here at DCAYA, we deeply value programs like Youth Led that inspire and empower young people to make their voice heard in local government efforts to support them. Advocating not just for the community based organizations that serve youth but also for young people directly is an essential part of our mission and we welcome partnerships with our member organizations that directly infuse the youth voice into policy making. With performance oversight and the FY'14 budget process upon us this is an especially important time to support young people in this endeavor.

If you or your organization has youth who are interested in testifying before the City Council on an issue please contact our Policy Team ASAP and we are happy to help young people prepare testimony, go over the local oversight and budget process and set up meetings with Council Members.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Seize the SLED!

At last week’s quarterly breakfast with DCPS we deviated a little from our normal agenda and had not one, but two guest speakers. The first guest, Daniela Grigioni from the DCPS Office of Out of School Time Programs (OSTP) is a regular at these meetings and always has news and updates to share with providers that help them serve young people better. Last week, however, we also invited another education agency, the Office of the State Superintendent for Education (OSSE) to present about the long awaited Statewide Longitudinal Education Data Warehouse (simple known as SLED in most circles) and their willingness to be a good partner as well. While many in the policy and advocacy arena have been following the development of SLED closely, we realized after last week’s meeting that not everyone knows about the great work and exciting developments that have been going on with SLED. With that in mind, we thought we would give everyone some background and an idea about how SLED might be useful to them.

So, to start at the beginning of SLED’s life we go back to December of 2007 when OSSE was awarded about $5 million to create a longitudinal data system. This money came from the federal Department of Education’s Longitudinal Data Systems grant program and was meant to help the District successfully design, develop, and implement a data warehouse that could track all students across DCPS and the charters from kindergarten to senior year of high school. Many states that also got the DOE grant also included early childhood data, post-secondary data and even workforce data into their systems. The grant program was rolled out with the hope that jurisdictions with longitudinal data systems would be able to make better decisions to improve student learning and outcomes and to facilitate research to increase student achievement across the board.

In July of 2008 the vendor for the SLED project, Williams, Adley and Co began doing work to develop the system. However, they hit a lot of snags along the way and wer not making adequate progress. The situation got so out of hand that just over a year later OSSE terminated the contract for SLED development and began to work on a new system in late 2009. A lot has happened since then, as SLED was essentially built from scratch, but in 2011 SLED became fully operational and all student information was entered into the warehouse. Today SLED is in use by DCPS and the charters and still managed and housed by OSSE.

SLED operates by assigning every student in the District a unique student identifier (USI) and using that number to track students through their educational development. By running a simple report in SLED, education agencies and school staff can look at real-time, standardized enrollment data broken down by gender, Ward, and grade. Appropriate staff can also look at assessment scores and individual student progress. The current SLED incorporates nine years of enrollment audit data and the last five years of DC CAS data. OSSE is on target to expand SLED to include early childhood, college enrollment and adult education data starting later this year.

All of this information may not sound that exciting, but having longitudinal performance information for students is imperative if we ever want the educational situation of a majority of students in the District to improve. Real time information about when and possibly why students are falling off track, data about what educational interventions are working (or not) and the integration of multiple data systems (via MOUs with OSSE) that track young people across agencies are all huge strides in the right direction for DC. Furthermore, OSSE also plans to create mechanisms for students to track their own educational progress through self-managed on-line report cards, transcripts, and individual graduation plans which could have implications for student engagement and success in school.

Lastly, OSSE has been very open and transparent about SLED enhancements and OSSE staff have come to multiple meetings with community partners to discuss how SLED can be of help with their goals for District students and how their public interface for SLED can best suit community needs. This is exactly the kind of mentality District agencies, especially ones that deal with something as broad as education, need to be successful. Youth service providers need to take advantage of this opportunity to give input to a government agency that has the potential to affect their own data and outcomes tracking and we encourage you to do so either by contacting OSSE directly or by contacting DCAYA to learn more.

For more information on SLED, please visit the OSSE website.

This blog post was written by DCAYA Policy Analyst Anne Abbott. You can follow her on twitter at @annieabbott.

Don’t forget to “Follow” and “Like” DCAYA on Facebook and Twitter for all of your up-to-date information on youth issues in the District. Also, check out our website at .  

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Succeeding Where Others Have Failed

This week the Raise DC partnership released its baseline report card on the state of the District’s young people.  Through collaborating with a number of organizations and city agencies, the report card outlines how well the city as a whole is preparing young people to become self-sufficient adults. Perhaps not surprisingly, DCAYA was involved with Raise DC since its inception. While the final report card may seem as if the Deputy Mayors for Education and Health and Human Services just collected information for publishing, we can assure you the process was much more in depth and deliberate. Over the past year, the amount of work put in by the Raise DC partners has been truly inspiring for us to witness, as well as take part in. Furthermore, as a coalition of child and youth service providers, DCAYA understands how the mere convening of a group of such diverse stakeholders is a major undertaking.

As the report card authors point out, DC has attempted mass collaborations in the past that have not necessarily yielded results. The educational attainment of our cities young people is still abysmally low, youth unemployment (and adult unemployment in certain areas of the city) is persistently high and we still have far too many families living below the poverty line. This reality begs the question, what makes Raise DC different from past efforts?

For starters, the government offices that organized the Raise DC report card actually acknowledged some past mistakes (as well as successes). This in itself is a good sign. A great concern amongst many entities that serve and care about youth in the District is that past collaborations usually begin well, but often lose steam over time. Past efforts such as the ICSIC and the SCCYF (hey, at least we didn’t use an adjective this time!) are good examples of this pit fall.  Both the ICSIC and the SCCYF began as a large collaboration amongst city entities and community partners to gather city wide indicators of young people’s success, each eventually fizzled out. Obviously, this is bad. At the end of the day we want to help young people achieve a healthy and productive adulthood and when we are not doing that, the city struggles. This is clearly evident in the amount of money the city spends every year to rectify past mistakes, like failing to invest in public education and health services on the front end. Also, unsuccessful efforts like the ICSIC and the SCCYF often affect the partner’s willingness to engage in future city wide collaborations and initiatives, which inevitably affects eventual success.

While Raise DC cannot guarantee loss of momentum and following down the path of its predecessors, there are many encouraging factors to indicate success.  The leadership structure of Raise DC was very intentionally set up by not just including city officials, but business leaders, philanthropic organizations and Executive Directors of prominent community based organizations. This structure not only allows for mass buy in, but also protects Raise DC from the typical life cycle of initiatives and collaborations tied to a specific political administration.

Another reason to think this time may be different from past efforts is that outside investors have already come to the table to aid the city and the partnership in achieving its mission. Also the formation of “cradle to career” partnerships across the country is considered a best practice by both the federal Department of Education and by numerous national and local think tanks and research organizations. These are both very important indicators of the aforementioned mass buy in from stakeholders that is necessary for Raise DC to achieve its mission. These indicators are also an encouraging sign the District may be able to garner even more long term, outside resources for the city. Good news for everyone.

Lastly, Raise DC has the extreme benefit of being guided through its planning and implementation process by one of the foremost collaborative impact organizations in the country, the STRIVE network out of Cincinnati, Ohio. STRIVE has been recognized locally and nationally as a leader in this area, but more importantly has achieved many of the goals it set out for itself through their work in Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky. Raise DC does not look exactly like the STRIVE network , but that does not mean we should be discouraged.  Collaborative efforts should be tailored to the specific needs of the communities and geographic regions they are meant to affect, so of course Raise DC is not a carbon copy of STRIVE.  Furthermore, by having STRIVE guide DC’s efforts we can learn from their five years of experience and make room for our own innovations.

DCAYA is especially proud of two Raise DC accomplishments: the inclusion of a change network (think of these as working groups) dedicated to the disconnected youth (youth who are neither enrolled in school nor working) population in the District and the inclusion of our Workforce Investment Act’s Youth Council into the Youth Employment Change network. While these two things may seem like common sense moves, we cannot overstate the need to eliminate redundancies and streamline the work being done around these issues.

Sir Winston Churchill famously said “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it” and we couldn’t agree with him more. That being said there are some very positive signs from the work Raise DC has already engaged in that suggest perhaps the city is finally in a place to build off past endeavors.

This blog post was written by DCAYA Policy Analyst Anne Abbott.  For questions about this post of DCAYA’s involvement with the Raise DC partnership you can email her here or ask her on Twitter!

For more information about the Raise DC partnership please visit the newly launched The baseline report card is available here.
Don’t forget to follow DCAYA on Twitter and Facebook