Wednesday, January 08, 2014

2014 Advocacy Agenda: Bring the Youth Voice to DC Council

With agency performance hearings starting February 7th, the primary on April 1st, and budget hearings kicking off on April 8th, the next few months will bring multiple opportunities for the DCAYA community to come together and ensure that the youth voice is a part of every policy, practice and funding conversation.

To set the stage for this exciting time of year, we wanted to take a moment and provide you with a quick rundown of the areas DCAYA will be focusing our advocacy efforts on this spring.

Youth Homelessness

Over the past few months we have seen significant strides in raising public awareness and garnering political interest in the issue of youth homelessness. With the development of the Bold Strategy to End Youth Homelessness in the District of Columbia and our members’ social media outreach, the issue is now on the radar of community members and councilmembers alike. We will move forward this spring by pushing the plan into legislation along with taking further steps to ensure all youth have a warm, safe place. We will advocate to:
  • Implement first year of multi-year strategy:
    •  Prevention: Family reunification and host-home program.
    •  Intervention: Increase shelter capacity, create 2 drop-in centers, coordinate outreach.
    •  Evaluation: Systematically track outcomes and extend point-in-time study. 
  • Amend language of HSRA: 
    • Ensure minors are considered “individuals” and therefore entitled to shelter on freezing nights.
  • Define unaccompanied minors with their own children as a “family”: 
    • Make it possible for them to access the Homeless Services System for Families.
  • Illustrate the current problem: 
    • If a 16 year old and her child show up to DC General, they will be turned away because the mother is not at least 18 years old.

Expanded Learning

Expanded Learning programs reduce school drop-out rates, improves grades, and increases youths’ social skills and motivation levels. However, in DC, thousands of youth are turned away from the programs due to lack of space. The District must return funding to its previous level by:
  • Re-committing local dollars: 
    • Now is the time to put the money back in the investment of our youth.
  • Expecting high quality: 
    • Programs will improve scores, reduce drop-out rate, and continue services youth need in order to thrive.
  • Turning no youth away: 
    • Youth should not be turned out on the street after school or in the summer if they want to keep learning. Currently there is not enough space for all who want to learn.

Disconnected Youth

In the report Connecting Youth to Opportunity: Better Understanding the Needs of Disconnected Young People in Washington DC, DCAYA detailed six recommendations for improving education-career pathways for youth looking to reconnect. The results of the city-wide survey and focus groups contributed to the coming years advocacy goals. 
  • Request support of the launch of a re-engagement center for DC’s youth:
    • With nearly 14,000 youth disengaged from school without a HS diploma or equivalent and struggling to enter the labor market, a re-engagement center provides a one-stop portal where youth can access referral services to successfully re-connect. 
    • We’ve seen the success of such centers implemented in a diverse number of communities; notably, Philadelphia and Boston. 
  • Advocate for the creation of a re-engagement center in concert with an increase in alternative education capacity:
    • With at least 80% of the nearly 3,000 existing alternative learning seats for 16-24 year olds already occupied by students, expansion in alternative education and enriched adult basic education with credentialing capacity is needed to meet existing demand.
  • Work to broaden the eligibility of transportation subsidies to age 24:
    • Extension captures ‘older’ youth who have disconnected from traditional educational programs and have reconnected to GED or alternative credentialing programs (STAY). 
    • Financially speaking, 12,000 currently disconnected District students cost taxpayers roughly $13,900 or a total of $167,000,000 in lost earnings annually. 
      • The per-student annual social cost (subsidized health care, income assistance, higher rates of criminal justice involvement) of $37,450 associated with disconnection is an additional $449,000,000 a year.
    • Our Connecting Youth to Opportunity report shows: “12% of surveyed youth identified that they could not always afford to get to school/class… Nearly one-third (29%) of students reported spending more than $30 a week or $120 a month getting to and from school. This suggests youth are spending between 15-30% of their monthly income on transportation alone.
  • Encourage extending the hours of Kids Ride Free availability to 10pm:
    • This would remove the burden of transportation costs for those who have successfully reconnected to education in alternative school settings.
    • Many young people that face financial pressure to work while pursuing an education need a more flexible educational program that necessitates night classes.

Youth Workforce

The District's youth face a steep uphill battle in acquiring the educational credentials, hard and soft skills, and work experience required to find meaningful employment. We can turn this trend around by investing in year-round workforce training programs, the development of a comprehensive workforce development system, and focusing on quality programming and outcomes.
  • DC has an untapped economic opportunity in young job-seekers :
    • Advocate for the connection of summer work experiences with year-round academic coursework or training
  • Alleviate a barrier to SYEP participation by offering a transportation subsidy:
    • Many students who rely on the earnings of SYEP for college or family income find transportation a significant portion of earnings. 

Looking ahead, we hope you, your organization and the young people you work with will take a few minutes to think creatively about how you can become involved by:

  • Encouraging youth, parents, volunteers, staff or board members to testify at a performance or budget hearing. 
  • Recording the testimony of your supporters and young people and sending them into DCAYA for us to share them electronically with Council and the community. 
  • Joining DCAYA at a meeting with Council members or at an agency budget briefing. 
  • Attending a candidate forum or sharing our candidate questionnaire results with your networks.
  • Participating in a DCAYA Call to Action Event. 

More details of each event will be released soon, but wanted to put a little bug in your ear as a heads up. Every bit helps. We are strongest when we speak together and DC youth deserve to be heard. 

DC Alliance of Youth Advocates envisions a community where no youth is considered at-risk and where all are respected as valued members of society. To this end, we work to establish structured opportunities for adolescents to become safe, healthy, resilient, and confident community members.

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