Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Path Forward

Last week was a bit of a roller coaster ride for those of us that follow the happenings of DC Council and the Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation (CYITC). Now that the dust has settled and Councilmember Graham has removed his request for appointment to the CYITC board, we wanted to take a moment and discuss the path moving forward, because if we truly want a functioning public-private intermediary that serves young people well, structural changes must be made.

To help provide some context, CYITC or the “Trust” was established to support the capacity and quality of the youth development sector by professionalizing and training youth development workers, blending public and private funding streams, and managing the competitive granting of these funds to community based organizations. At the time of its creation, the leadership structure of CYITC (wherein the Mayor and Council share board appointment responsibilities) was very common among the first wave of public-private intermediaries. It should come as no shock then to learn that most of these structures, found themselves in a similar situation to the Trust: subject to fraud, wrought with dysfunction and in need of a structural overhaul. Which many of these communities successfully achieved.

The District must follow suit. CYITC’s current structure blends power of the purse, oversight functions and leadership decisions. This opens the door for political opportunism and manipulation, limits the organization from recruiting board members that reflect the needs and opportunities of the organization, muddies the water in terms of oversight and accountability, and understandably drives private funders away from investing in the District’s young people through this vehicle.

We know that the programs CYITC oversees are among the highest-quality youth development programs in DC; and that they work diligently to ensure individual, family, and community well-being. Through structured activities that tie to the school day, engage students in their community and allow them to explore new opportunities or ideas; these programs help young people thrive and grow academically, socially and emotionally. For this reason alone, we need to vigilantly safeguard and actively cultivate these community assets. A major component of this work must be ensuring that we have a strong funding intermediary that promotes quality and attracts private investments from local and national donors.

So, how do we ensure CYITC can fulfill this mandate? For starters, we have to push the Council (as they are the body tasked with oversight) to establish the Blue Ribbon Task Force “composed of representatives from the local philanthropic community, business and community based stakeholders to consider and present recommendations [to Council]” that Council member Graham recommended in April of last year. (District of Columbia Committee on Human Services Preliminary Report on the CYITC Grants Management Policies and Procedures, Executive Summary page 6, April 2012). Through this task force, we have an opportunity to divorce the daily operations of CYITC from political influence and re-constitute this entity with healthy, stable leadership with a true vision for the role the Trust plays in youth development. This is not to say the work ends here- but creating a clear division between political interests and youth development funding must be our first priority.

So, this year as we’re all moving through the Wilson building; meeting with Council or testifying at hearings; take a moment and ask Council and the Executive Office of the Mayor when they’re going to make good on their promise to DC youth and create “an accountable, dynamic intermediary” that ensures high quality and diverse youth programming here in DC.


This post was written by DCAYA's Executive Director Maggie Riden.

For more information on DCAYA's work around ensuring the District has a strong youth intermediary, please visit dc-aya.org.