Wednesday, May 29, 2013

I'm a Good Neighbor

Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia is a prime destination spot for any city dweller wishing to experience the calming atmosphere of fresh water and crisp mountain air. In fact, many affluent DC residents choose to retire in this lake side community only four hours from the city, where traveling by boat is quicker than driving around the nearly 500 mile shoreline. However, the picturesque nature of this vacation spot grows dim mere miles inland from the shore. In the nearby schools, over 70% of the students are on free or reduced lunches and rural poverty can be seen within miles of a lakeside mansion. In 2009, during the summer of my sophomore year in college, I interned for a start-up non-profit initially created to remedy the summer feeding gap for local children. Through the summers, this simple idea grew and expanded into a summer enrichment program serving hundreds of children and bonding together two fiscally diverse populations into a symbiotic community.

Since living in D.C. and working with DCAYA on issues such as expanded learning and summer programming, I have realized that rural and urban poverty may look different on the surface, but in reality share many attributes. One of the most ambitious and successful programs of the SML Good Neighbors Day Camp is Reading Buddies, where a member of the community sits and reads with a child every day for 30 minutes. In the 2010 Assessment Report, SML Good Neighbors found that 88% of the children who participated in the summer enrichment program either maintained or improved their reading scores over the summer. The District has many non-profits that utilize a similar strategy to prevent the summer slide, which researchers have proven most negatively affects low income children. D.C. is also ranked number one in the country for best summer feeding program. Showing summer programming enriches both the minds and bodies of our neighborhood children.

The three summers I spent interning for SML Good Neighbors reinforces my passionate stance for quality summer programming. Just because school lets out for the summer does not mean children’s brains should shut down for three long months. At the same time, summer should be fun. Summer enrichment programs are the best way to provide necessary services such as nutritional meals and educational programming to children in a positive, socially enriching and engaging way so they may grow into productive adults.

The slogan “I’m a Good Neighbor” is displayed on the back of each campers t-shirt. All children need quality, year round supports no matter their family’s income level or geographic location. With summer around the corner, we can all be Good Neighbors by supporting our local summer enrichment programs.

To learn more about SML Good neighbors visit their website or watch this short video about the day camp.

Find a summer enrichment program in D.C. through The Bridge Project DC website. To find a summer feeding program in the District, DC Hunger Solutions provides an easy to use Google map.

Angela Massino is the communications associate at DCAYA. If you would like to stay current on youth issues in the District FOLLOW us on Twitter, LIKE us on Facebook and check out our website

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Last Look at Committee Recommendations

Before Wednesday’s budget vote in the Committee of the Whole, we thought we would do a quick rundown of what made it thru the Committee Markups. So here we go…

Committee on Human Services: Jim Graham, Chairman
Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA)
-“The Committee directs the agency to work with the advocacy community and foster youth to develop performance outcomes specifically for the Subsidized Employment Program. The agency shall also submit performance outcomes to the Committee by October 31, 2013. Additionally, the agency shall submit the “Subsidized Employment Program Quarterly Report” on the achievement of performance outcomes. The report should detail services all activities related subsidized employment programs, job readiness programs, and vocational training programs. The report should indicate expenditures for each activity, the number of unique youth served within each activity, types of jobs obtained, and the types of vocational trainings youth are enrolled in and have completed. The first quarter report shall be submitted to the Committee no later than January 31, 2014.”

-Transfer $550,000 from CFSA Personal Services to the Flexible Family Services Fund within CFSA: CSG 50, Activity 3010 (Child Placement), Program 3000 (Community Services). The following populations will be eligible to access the Fund:

- Homeless families who are unable to be served by the Virginia Williams Family Resource Center or the DHS Strong Families Program because there are no placements available and additional family services are needed to avoid their children being removed from their care;
- Families brought to the attention of CFSA due to excessive absenteeism from school;
- Homeless youth ages 16-24; and/or

- The Committee supports the proposed budget allocation of $1,397,000 for the Rapid Housing Program, which maintains the FY 2013 funding level. This program provides short-term subsidies to families for whom the lack of assistance may act as a major barrier to family stabilization, and likely result in an increased number of homeless families and children being brought into care. Additionally, the program provides housing support to young adults transitioning out of foster care. This support is critical to ensure that young adults who need housing support receive it. There has been a steady increase of in the number of homeless families, headed by youth, who recently emancipated from care. Continued support of this program will ensure that leaving foster care is not becoming a pathway to homelessness.

Department of Human Services (DHS)
Homeless Youth Services: “The increasing number of District youth experiencing homelessness is a concern for the Committee given the fact that homeless youth are at especially high risk of for exploitation; dropping out of school; and having health, mental health, and substance abuse problems. The Committee strongly supports the addition of $1 million in the proposed budget for homeless youth services for a total FY 2014 budget allocation of $3.4 million. The Committee notes that the Mayor has also provided $500,000 in FY 2013 funding for youth homeless services. The Committee wants to ensure that additional funding allocated to address the needs of homeless youth is used to expand services for homeless youth who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, or Questioning (LGBTQ), unaccompanied youth up to 18 years of age, and young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 years of age. The Committee is pleased to accept $486,000 from the Committee on Transportation and the Environment, chaired by Councilmember Mary Cheh, to expand shelter capacity for LGBTQ homeless youth.”

Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation (CYITC)
The Trust held steady with the $3 million dollars of funding allocated in the Mayor’s budget being approved by the Committee.

Committee on Workforce and Community Affairs: Marion Barry, Chairman

The full committee report is available here.

Department of Employment Services (DOES)
Programming dollars did not change from the Mayor’s proposed budget which means slight increases to the Mayor’s Youth Leadership Institute and the Summer Youth Employment Program and about a $4 million dollar bump to year-round employment programs. Our policy recommendations were also included in the Committee’s report (pg 27):

-“The Committee additional feels strongly that the agency must begin to build an outcome framework measuring “work readiness” for SYEP and the Office of Youth Programs and create an articulated mission, performance targets, and make public available outcome data and should begin to report outcomes by age range including for 18 to 24 year olds in their adult quarterly outcomes.”

-“It has also been suggested that Summer Youth Employment Program should be built out by take 50 youth and placing in the year round job opportunities to begin to give them a yearly opportunity.”

Department of Park and Recreation (DPR)

Programming dollar amounts suggested in the Mayor’s Proposed Budget held pretty steady in the DPR budget. As with DOES as number of DCAYA’s policy recommendations and concerns about operations rather than dollar amounts made it into the Committee report (pg 32):

-“ Staffing: Staffing continues to be a concern within the Department of Parks and Recreation. In FY2013 oversight hearings, the previous Committee received several complaints about the relocation of staff and programs. Additionally, last year they were concerned with the high number of vacancies, which stood at 68. This year DPR currently has 61 vacancies, which the agency commits to the Committee will be filed by July 2013. These positions are the same positions the agency had a tough time filling last year. In addition, the Mayor in the FY14 budget added an additional 38.2 FTE’s to ensure that there is adequate operational capacity that exists at new facilities and pools expected this upcoming fiscal year. The Committee wants to see the agency focused on filling the hard to fill positions and will work with the agency to address hiring and staffing issues.

Permitting/Field Space Use – DPR moved their permitting system to an electronic system where customers receive status updates on applications that go through the permit process. While it is great has made it easier for residents to sign up for permitting the Committee still has received complaints about an electronic system that is still hard to navigate when applying for permits and additional concerns have stemmed from equitable field use between recreational groups.

In addition, the Committee wants to see an improved permit fee structure. Many residents and Friends groups describe an expensive permit fee for residents compared to non-residents paying for DPR’s recreational facility. The Director of DPR has committed that the agency has begun to resolve this issue and has drafted a restructured permit fee plan that has gone to the Executive for review. The Committee will follow the progress of finalizing a new plan for the District’s permit fees.

Master Plan – DPR has begun the planning process for a new Parks and Recreation Master Plan. The initiative will create a 10-year strategy that will assess the capital and programmatic needs of the Districts parks and recreation system. The Committee is excited by this new endeavor because the plan will allow for DPR begin to strategize and prioritize funding and support for the city’s parks and recreation facilities and programs. “

Office of Human Rights

The biggest change here is the “transfer of $205,983.45 from the DOES to the Office of Human Rights – Equal Justice Program (2030) Investigations to maintain day to day operations in the Office of Human Rights; to implement the Mayor’s Bulling Prevention Task Force Act 2011 and Unemployed Anti-Discrimination Act; maintain civil rights testing an investigative duties; language access annual report; hiring of an office mediator.”

Office of Latino Affairs
The Committee did not fund this recommendation but nevertheless raised concern about a reduction in grant funds for the “Gang Intervention and Prevention Program; Pro-Urban Youth Program; and Youth Incentive and Empowerment Program. These programs totaled around $1.3 million. These programs were successful at reducing gang activity and violence, and created meaningful employment, career and educational opportunities for young people. The Committee is committed to working with the Executive and the agency in looking at other alternative ways in order to address these issues.”

The committee recommended that “ An additional $780,000 be allocated to community grants for a gang prevention and pro-urban youth program in order to reducing gang activity and violence” if funds could be found.

Committee on Education: David Catania, Chairman

Report Here.This budget experienced a lot of changes this year. Maybe the most important lines of the Committee report are here: “The Committee has identified $4,500,000 in savings internal to the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), along with $135,000 in savings from the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education (DME), to support the following:

- Stabilizing DCPS schools that received more than a 5% gross reduction to their budget
from FY13 to FY14;

- Investing additional resources in summer academic enrichment programs, including the
summer bridge program for rising 9th graders;

- Restoration of reductions in library services for those schools impacted by the change in
policy regarding small school status; and

- Implementation of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) at Woodson
High School.

Other highlights:

-“The Committee has identified $75,000 in savings from the Office of the Deputy Mayor of
Education to support a dedicated liaison for the PCSB to work with government agencies for
purposes of educational planning and to help coordinate the delivery of programs and services at
the individual charter schools.”

-“The Committee has identified $279,671 in savings from the Office of the Deputy Mayor of
Education and the Non-Public Tuition program to support the re-establishment of the Office of
the Ombudsman for Public Education.”

What’s important to remember is that none of the Committee recommendations will be final until tomorrow’s Committee of the Whole vote on the Budget Support Act. It is possible (and in some cases likely) that not all of these recommendations will go through and that by Thursday morning we will have some substantial changes to report out on. In the meantime if you have questions feel free to contact the DCAYA policy team!

And don’t forget, all our recommendations and copies of DCAYA staff and member testimony are available online at

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Skimping on Special Education

Policy Director Suzanne Greenfield from Advocates for Justice and Education guest blogs on the FY 2014 Budget proposals will have on D.C. children with special needs.

According to the District of Columbia Public Schools, there were approximately 8,200 students receiving special education services, this figure does not account for the number of children receiving services in the Public Charter school system.

The District of Columbia estimates that it expects to record a savings of approximately $30 million dollars by bringing special education students back from private school placements. What the District’s budget fails to acknowledge is the cost associated with creating and implementing programming sufficient to meet the needs of those same children.

The budget as proposed by DCPS provides little reinvestment to support students with special needs. Students in the District of Columbia are not placed in private school placements solely due to the will of their parents. The primary reason is that the District has failed to provide adequate services and supports to ensure that the needs of their children are met. 

These savings are not being reprogrammed into special education. A part of the savings is being used to increase the per student formula and the other part will go to support the expansion of services for Early Intervention students between 3 and 5 who have been identified as needing special education. While we whole-heartedly support the expansion of early intervention services - it does not address the needs of the students coming back to the system. We believe that any savings should be proportionately directed to improving and sustaining effective programs, programs that will genuinely support both the students returning from non-public placements and those future students. 

Advocates for Justice and Education (AJE) provides support, education and advocacy for students with special needs. As the Parent Training and Information Center for the District of Columbia we have two major goals: to work collaboratively with schools to improve educational outcomes for children with special needs and to ensure that all children have access to a free and appropriate public education. 

The Mayor has made bringing students back to the city and cutting the cost of non-public placements a priority. While we too would like to see those students have an opportunity to receive their education in a neighborhood school, we see no evidence that the school system is developing the programs to meet those student’s needs let alone the needs of students that are already in the schools.

Special education savings need to be directed to fully funding high quality educational programs. The schools are presently struggling to provide appropriate placements, services and supports for our students – adding more to the mix without first creating programs that are capable of supporting the students they are already serving seems self defeating at best – and truly immoral at worst.

In this city neither school system (DCPS or the charters) has the reputation for ensuring that students with special education needs are being served in an appropriate way. While we have seen individual schools support the needs of their students, we have never seen the school system support the needs of the schools. The issue mirrors the larger education issue in that there is no over arching plan, decisions are not based on actual best practices, and the results are too few and too limited and nothing is sustained long enough to see value. We believe much more needs to be done to improve quality of the programs in place and to ensure that schools are meeting the needs of all their students.

To learn more about Advocates for Justice and Education check out there website at

This blog is brought to you by DC Alliance of Youth Advocates. To stay up-to-date on youth issues in DC visit our website at You can also FOLLOW and LIKE  us on Twitter and Facebook!  

Friday, May 03, 2013

Reinvesting Savings To Support DC’s Fragile Families

For the fiscal year 2014 budget, Children’s Law Center urges reinvestment in children and families to prevent negative outcomes and avoid more expensive interventions in the future. Changes in policies and practices mean extra savings for the District: $30 million from sending fewer children to non-public schools and about half that amount from the reduction in the number of children in foster care. But these families will still need help from DC’s child- and family-serving agencies. The savings should follow the families and their needs through reinvestment in the education, early childhood, child welfare, and mental health system.


The mayor’s office is planning to bring hundreds of students back to DC public schools (DCPS) from nonpublic placements and saving an anticipated $30 million in FY14 in tuition. While Children’s Law Center shares the hope expressed by Mayor Gray that all DC children be able to attend local schools, in our experience DC schools are already struggling to meet the current demand for special education services. Returning hundreds more children with disabilities to DCPS can only succeed if there is a major financial investment in expanding and improving DCPS’s existing special education services. Rather than such a meaningful financial investment, what is in the budget is simply a small increase to the foundation level for the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula. This increase is no more than what is necessary to account for rising teacher salaries and operating costs. The proportion of the DCPS budget going to special education is unchanged.

Early Childhood 

The FY14 budget for the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) includes a significant increase in funding for one of the most critical components of the education system – services for infants and toddlers with developmental delays. Research shows definitively that children’s experiences during their first years of life set the groundwork for their future success. Children who do not receive the specialized supports they need as infants and toddlers have a much harder time making up lost ground later. However, when young children do receive the supports they need, the payoffs are enormous, with long lasting and substantial gains. OSSE has recently expanded the eligibility criteria for DC’s early intervention program and the proposed FY 14 budget provides the funding necessary for this. While DC’s eligibility criteria are still more restrictive than those of 32 other states, this is an important step forward.

Child Welfare

There have been remarkable, positive reforms in DC’s child welfare system. Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) Director Brenda Donald and her team have been successful in realigning the agency’s philosophy and practice to remove fewer children from home, place more children with kin, and ensure shorter stays for children who ultimately must be removed and placed into foster care. This is a positive change for children and has resulted in a lower foster care population. With this decrease, it is not surprising to see some decrease in CFSA’s budget, simply because it costs less when fewer children are in foster care. However, the savings should be reinvested in programs that meet the needs of these still fragile families. While children and families are disappearing from the District’s foster care rolls, their needs remain as visible and as striking as ever.

CFSA’s budget proposal includes several reinvestments, to:
  • add Family Assessment units to the differential response program
  • maintain recently increased subsidies for grandparent caregivers
  •  fund substance abuse treatment for families receiving in-home services
  • contract for legal services for families before their children are removed

Reinvesting in these and other prevention-focused programs will build stronger families and continue to reduce the need for out-of-home care.

Mental Health

A properly functioning mental health system provides services to ensure children reach developmental milestones, aid their academic achievements, reduce their stays in foster care, and cope with the trauma in their lives rather than repeating the cycle of violence. The money we are not investing in mental health services today is reflected in the money we spend in our special education, foster care and juvenile justice budgets.

It is a positive step that the Department of Behavioral Health (DBH) budget has been increased to raise provider reimbursement rates and allow for an increase in other services. Unfortunately, the budget for DBH’s specific children’s programs is flat this year, although the current budget for these programs does not come close to meeting the needs of children with mental health problems in our city. Despite many improvements this past year DC children still have insufficient mental health services to assist them as they struggle to address problems in their families, schools, and community.

The District is seeing savings from reforms – but this money should be reinvested, following the fragile families from one program or one agency to the next. Their need for services is not going away; neither should the funding to serve them.

Judith Sandalow is the executive director of Children’s Law Center, which works to give every child in the District of Columbia a solid foundation of family, health, and education. CLC serves more than 2,000 at-risk children each year. Learn more at or review Children’s Law Center’s testimony at