Investing in the First Three Years of Life Can Greatly Impact School Success

Research has proven that high-quality early childhood programs – particularly those targeted to children at risk for poor outcomes – can provide a considerable return on investment in terms of economic gains and educational outcomes.

Neural connections formed during a child’s first three years of life are vital for healthy brain development and form the foundation for future learning. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Mayor Betsy Hodges. It is the second post in a series about the Mayors’ Education Task Force.

It is incumbent upon us as city leaders to create cities that are focused on the future, not just the present. All cities will face similar challenges down the road, from workforce shortages to racial achievement gaps; we must be willing to address those challenges today by forming the next generation of citizens. That means reaching children as early as possible.

In the city of Minneapolis, I have formed the Cradle to K Cabinet to develop and implement a plan of action that makes very young children and their families a priority. Here’s why: research consistently demonstrates that the first three years of life are critical to children’s healthy growth and development. In every second of those first three years, more than 700 new neural connections are formed. These connections are vital for healthy brain development and form the foundation for future learning.

Infant brains are wired to absorb their environment, and positive early experiences in safe, supportive, nurturing environments facilitate healthy development. During this period of early growth and development it is vital that infants and very young children receive positive stimulation from a caring parent or adult that will allow them to grow and thrive.

Unfortunately, not all children receive such positive stimulation; far too many are exposed to toxic and stressful environments that impede their development. As a result, disparities and inequities occur early, and gaps in learning and development widen over time.

Mayor Hodges’ Cradle to K Cabinet consists of multi-sector experts, leaders, and parents working to prevent disparities by aligning policies, closing gaps, and increasing resources where needed to ensure that all Minneapolis children have a healthy start, are stably housed, and have continuous access to high-quality, child-development-centered child care and early education. (City of Minneapolis)

In 2013, Stanford University researcher Anne Fernald found that, by the time a child is two years old, there is already a six-month gap in language comprehension. This means that too many children are already behind by the time they enter school. Such an early learning gap is the strongest predictor of the persistent achievement gap in educational attainment.

Quality early education programs can mitigate these risks. Investments during formative years will ensure that all children get the best possible start to early learning and future school success.

Minnesota economist Art Rolnick’ s substantive research on, and advocacy for, investments in high-quality early childhood programs – particularly those targeted to children at risk for poor outcomes – has proven that they can provide a considerable societal return on investment in terms of economic gains and educational outcomes. For every dollar invested in high-quality early care and education programs, up to $13.00 in future costs are returned. Access to quality early care and education programs helps parents fulfill their parental responsibilities and allows them to go to work and provide for their children. Children that graduate from these programs have yielded benefits in academic achievement, behavior, educational progression and attainment.

I continue to advocate for the necessary federal and state resources that support the healthy development of young children. Federal programs and initiatives like the Child Care and Development Block Grant, Head Start/Early Head Start, Community (or Federally Qualified) Health Centers, the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and Community Development Block Grants are just a few of the federal investments that support this critical need. The loss or significant reduction of these programs would impact the success of our future generations.

City leaders like ourselves must foster early learning and allow children and families to have access to high-quality, accessible early education programs and learning environments that are responsive to the needs of families and ensure that children are on a path to early learning and lifelong success.

For specific information on how you can invest in early childhood education, read NLC’s Early Childhood Learning: Building Blocks for Success and Educational Alignment Framework for Young Children.

About the author: Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges took office in 2014 after spending eight years on the Minneapolis City Council.

Want to Close the Digital Divide? For Cities, Partnerships Are Key

In New York, the Bronx city government was able to provide 5,000 families living in public housing with tablets and internet service. Here’s how they did it.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (center), along with U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro (left) and Terry Hayes, Senior Vice President, Northeast Region, T-Mobile, gather in December 2016 to celebrate the work to connect 5,000 families living in public housing in the Bronx with tablets and internet service. (photo: EveryoneOn)

This is a guest post by Chike Aguh.

In New York City, approximately 20 percent of households currently don’t have the internet at home and have no mobile internet options. In the Bronx, it is a staggering 26 percent of households. The majority of the unconnected are minority and poor.

At EveryoneOn, we have seen this time and time again: low-income individuals yearning for a connection to the digital world but not being able to find a way to afford it. Luckily, cities are meeting this call and implementing public-private partnership solutions.

For example, in 2016, the Bronx city government worked with T-Mobile to provide 5,000 families living in public housing with tablets and internet service. It was a $2 million investment, and part of a larger $10 million commitment by the New York City government to bring affordable internet access to all of New York City by 2025.

“Increasing internet access across the city is not just a noble goal – it’s a necessary one. These days, the internet is virtually a requirement for people searching for jobs or students doing homework,” said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Along with free Wi-Fi internet through T-Mobile networks, the 5,000 residents were given tablets loaded with applications and links to city services. In addition, residents were offered information sessions on how to use the tablets. By combining these efforts with digital literacy training from the New York Public Library’s Bronx branches, residents now have access to the three-legged stool of digital inclusion: affordable internet access, a device on which to access the internet, and training on how to use both.

During the launch, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Julián Castro highlighted HUD’s innovative ConnectHome program, which connects residents in HUD-assisted housing, and praised New York City’s commitment to digital inclusion efforts.

“The ConnectHome program is providing children and families with the tools they need to stay competitive in this 21st century global economy,” said Castro in a news release. “With this new commitment to ConnectHome, T-Mobile and the city of New York are making a meaningful impact to close the digital divide for thousands of New York public housing residents.”

While the Bronx and New York City – along with other cities such as Seattle, Kansas City, Missouri, and Charlotte, North Carolina – have helped close the digital divide, the United States as a whole still has a long way to go in making sure that all people have access to the life-altering power of the internet. According to the American Community Survey, more than 60 million people are currently living on the wrong side of the digital divide. This divide affects both rural and urban residents, but disproportionately those that are poor and minority.

This lack of access and use of the internet impacts almost every aspect of daily lives. For example, Pew Research has found that approximately 80 percent of students need the internet to complete their homework, and that the vast majority of people have used the internet to research and apply for jobs. If you have the internet at home, high school graduation is more likely, which can lead to $2 million more in lifetime earnings.

These are just a few of the numbers that can be improved if we work together to connect people to the internet at home. At EveryoneOn, we have worked since 2012 to help connect people to the social and economic opportunities provided by the internet. So far, we have connected more than 400,000 people in the United States, with the goal of connecting one million people by 2020.

We believe that partnerships are a way for all cities to meet the digital needs of their residents. For cities and communities, support of digital inclusion efforts through community planning, public-private partnerships and monetary investments are substantial ways to help the unconnected enter the digital on-ramp. By working together, the goal of ending this digital divide is attainable. The digital inclusion needle can be moved with just a little push.

About the author: Chike Aguh is the chief executive officer of EveryoneOn, a national nonprofit that creates social and economic opportunity by connecting everyone to the internet. EveryoneOn serves as the nonprofit lead of HUD’s ConnectHome program. Follow Chike on Twitter @CRAguh or EveryoneOn @Everyone_On.

Five Issues Tackled by Youth Delegates at the Congressional City Conference

The delegates designed their own sessions focused on leadership and skill development, developed strategies to solve problems in their communities, and learned the importance of advocacy at all levels of government.

Youth delegates at the Congressional City Conference learn to lobby, advocate, and collaborate on the issues that matter most to them. (Jason Dixson/NLC)

This is the fifth post in a series highlighting NLC’s 2017 Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C., March 11-15.

Youth delegates from 37 cities across the nation convened this week at the 2017 Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C. In sessions with their peers and other youth allies, the delegates critically analyzed issues in their communities and developed strategies and solutions.

In one of the most engaging sessions, Lobbying and Advocacy: Making the Youth Voice Heard, delegates heard from former congressional staffers as well as current lobbyists and consultants about the importance of the youth voice in all levels of government and their power to make a difference on both a small and large scale.

As part of this session, each youth council represented at the conference identified a problem in their city, formulated a solution, and developed a plan to lobby local, state and federal leaders for change. They then encapsulated the problem, its solution and convincing messaging into a concise elevator pitch. Here are five issues discussed at the session:

Lack of youth involvement in local government: Delegates from Olathe, Kansas, and Fayetteville, North Carolina, identified the potential benefits of increased youth participation in local government, and each youth council took a different approach to this issue. Delegates from Olathe suggested creating a teen council to listen to other youth problems and presenting those problems to city councilmembers. Delegates from Fayetteville created a plan to lower the local voting age to 16 to increase voter turnout and local knowledge. Their strong argument: “Sixteen-year-olds pay taxes if they have jobs – and there should not be taxation without representation!”

Possible loss of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding: Delegates from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, identified the importance of CDBG funds in their city that help subsidize many youth programs. One delegate from Milwaukee noted that “these programs affect the longevity and success of youth in our city.”

Plastic pollution in cities: Delegates from Hillsboro, Oregon, described their plan to ban plastic bags in their city as “a way to save the community and contribute to a global movement.” They highlighted the fact that more than 50 percent of plastic bags are used just once and then thrown away.

Mental illness awareness and resources: Delegates from the cities of Brighton and Loveland in Colorado addressed the lack of mental illness awareness and resources in their schools and communities. Both youth councils emphasized reducing teen suicide rates and teaming up with mental health organizations to implement more programs.

Dangers of invasive species: Delegates from Buckeye, Arizona, shared a unique problem in their community: the damage created by an invasive plant, the salt cedar tree. One salt cedar tree can use up to 300 gallons of water per day, meaning that 200,000 households could use the water currently being used by salt cedar trees. Their solution? Release the Salt Cedar Creek Beetle to combat the invasive species. The delegates highlighted the documented success of this strategy, which is already underway in some areas of Texas.

Feedback from the session’s panelists allowed the youth to expand on their ideas and explore ways to make their arguments more powerful. The delegates also learned about the importance of highlighting reliable data and sharing examples of best practices in similar towns and cities.

Youth delegates are sure to take their invaluable experiences at the Congressional City Conference back to their youth councils at home to spark effective change in their communities. Their enduring engagement and involvement in all of the sessions proved their dedication to the betterment of their communities.

About the author: Alessia Riccio is the 2016-2017 National League of Cities Menino Fellow in the partnership between Boston University’s Initiative on Cities and NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

Videos from the 2017 Congressional City Conference

This is the fourth post in a series highlighting NLC’s 2017 Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C., March 11-15.

More than 2,400 of the nation’s city officials united in Washington, D.C. this week for NLC’s annual Congressional City Conference. Whether they were first-timers or thirty-year veterans, this video provided everything they needed to know to make the most of the conference:

 

The Congressional City Conference is the perfect opportunity for city leaders to boost their leadership skills. NLC University offers thoughtfully-crafted seminars at the start of each conference in which participants learn about current resources, develop strategies, build skills, and engage in small group discussions and exercises with peers from other communities. We asked attendees what they looked forward to learning from the NLCU seminars this year:

 

City leaders came to the conference to defend Community Development Block Grants and fight the cuts to funding sources on which cities depend. We caught up with a few favorite colleagues, like NLC Immediate Past President and Joplin, Missouri, Councilmember Melodee Colbert-Kean, to hear what they had to say about the proposed cuts:

 

Paul Konz headshotAbout the Author: Paul Konz is the Senior Editor at the National League of Cities.

Now Is the Time for City Leaders to Engage with NLC

With the recent potential for cuts to funding for cities, getting involved with NLC’s constituency groups, committees and councils gives city leaders an edge when it comes to knowing the best practices – and the right people – they need to get the job done for their constituents.

NLC’s constituency groups, committees and councils are currently meeting in Washington, D.C. at the 2017 Congressional City Conference. (Getty Images)

This is the second post in a series highlighting NLC’s 2017 Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C., March 11-15.

NLC membership offers extensive networking and professional development opportunities. With the recent potential for cuts to funding for cities, getting involved with NLC’s constituency groups, committees and councils can give city leaders the edge they need when it comes to knowing the best practices – and the right people – to help get the job done for their constituents.

Our constituency groups, committees and councils have been established over the years to reflect the diverse interests and backgrounds of NLC’s membership, and they work collaboratively with NLC to contribute to leadership development, policy formulation, advocacy, and program activities. Constituency groups are caucuses within NLC membership that share common interests and concerns, and they also contribute to NLC’s leadership development, policy programs and more. Our seven federal advocacy committees cover policy areas ranging from economic development and technical policy to energy and the environment. Finally, NLC councils reflect the different types of communities our members represent, from suburbs, college towns and military communities to large cities.

At the 2017 Congressional City Conference, we reached out to NLC members and delegates to find out how participation in NLC’s various member groups has added to their arsenal of skills as city leaders.

Federal Advocacy Committee – Information Technology and Communication (ITC)

“My participation in NLC’s Information Technology and Communication federal advocacy committee is honestly my favorite part of being a NLC member. I’ve worked with public, educational and government access television for most of my career, so I’ve always been interested in telecom policy. I’d always read trade magazines about the industry and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and now I have the opportunity to serve as the chair for a committee that takes me to the FCC and Capitol Hill to discuss issues I’m passionate about with the leaders in this field.

ITC and other federal advocacy committees allow you to pursue your interests and advocate for real change. I would encourage any NLC member looking to get involved to check out NLC’s advocacy committees. Find that industry or policy area that fascinates you, and join a corresponding committee. For me, ITC covers such a broad swath of topics that anyone is bound to find our meetings interesting, and technology is only becoming a bigger part of life in all cities.”

-Mesa, Arizona, Vice Mayor David Luna

NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (YEF) Council

“The city of Caldwell has greatly benefited from our association with the YEF Council and Institute over the past twenty years that I have served as mayor. We have learned strategies to assist us in creating, partnering, and implementing many of the programs and policies adopted by our city council to promote youth and families within our community as well the mentoring element for our youth who attend annual YEF functions.

Some of the programs and steps we’ve initiated in Caldwell from information and encouragement received from the YEF Council include:

  • Creation of the first Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council (MYAC) in Idaho
  • Adoption of the City Platform for Youth and Families by the Caldwell city council
  • Partnerships created with local school districts and nonprofits to develop a third grade swimming program, mentoring programs, preschool programs and out-of-school programs
  • Creation and adoption of a Youth Master Plan
  • Development of youth programs to include the Caldwell Youth Forum and Let’s Move! Caldwell
  • Development of a college savings program, Caldwell Saves 1st

In turn, we’ve promoted the same principles we have gained from our involvement in the YEF Council to other cities in Idaho and beyond. We have done this because we believe that every child matters. Because of our passion for youth and families, we’ve seen a dramatic improvement in civility, community partnerships, graduation rates, reading skills, crime rates and youth engagement. We are truly appreciative of the solid guiding principles that have been offered by the YEF Council and YEF Institute over the years.”

-Caldwell, Idaho, Mayor Garret Nancolas

Young Elected Leaders Network

“As we continue to see history being made every year with the election of very young government officials, it’s important that we have an outlet in the midst of the organized chaos we call legislating. The Young Elected Leaders (YEL) Network has done an outstanding job of educating young leaders – and now NLC is doing its part to carve out a special place to connect seasoned leaders with those who are just beginning their journey.

I think, in some ways, the current generation of elected officials has been slow to share knowledge, and too sluggish to pass the baton on to future generations of passionate local leaders. I’m excited because our participation in NLC’s Young Elected Leaders Network is an opportunity for NLC to help guide young leaders out of our silos and onto a path filled with the resources and meaningful engagement only NLC can provide.”

-East Point Councilmember Alex Gothard

City officials who participate in these NLC member groups bring their voices and perspectives to the table to develop policy and advocate at the federal level on the issues that matter most to cities. To take your involvement in local government to the next level, join a constituency group, committee or council today.

Paul Konz headshotAbout the Author: Paul Konz is the Senior Editor at the National League of Cities.

NLC University Seminars Prepare City Leaders for an Uncertain Future

Annually, city leaders from across the nation convene in Washington, D.C. for NLC’s Congressional City Conference. Coupled with traditional conference programming, NLC University is hosting a series of pre-conference seminars designed to prepare city leaders for the road ahead.

The 2017 Congressional City Conference takes place in Washington, D.C., March 11-15. (Getty Images)

This post was co-authored by Chris Abbott and Laura Lanford. It is the first post in a series highlighting NLC’s 2017 Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C., March 11-15.

Cities are at the forefront of the national economy, public safety, infrastructure and a host of other issues. But with the increased potential for cuts to funding for cities, the need for knowledgeable, connected and engaged city leaders is more critical than ever.

City leaders need to make their voices heard – and the Congressional City Conference is the perfect opportunity for local elected officials to boost their leadership skills. From introductory overviews to in-depth explorations, NLC University seminars at the Congressional City Conference offer participants a wide range of subject areas to choose and benefit from, regardless of their background, experience, region, or size of their municipality.

NLC University is a collaborative educational and professional development initiative that focuses on four key proficiency areas: leadership, management, engagement and issue expertise. The goal of NLC University is to provide municipal leaders with an interactive and engaging approach to refine existing skills and develop strategies to better govern, serve and advocate for their respective communities.

The Value Proposition

NLC University seminars provide one of the largest opportunities for local elected and appointed city officials to receive training from leading issue experts. The interactive training sessions are offered as full- or half-day sessions in which city officials are challenged with problems and concepts relevant to current city environments. The training sessions will stretch conventional thinking by applying creative, innovative solutions.

NLCU seminar participant Lydia Glaize, councilwoman from Fairburn, Georgia, had this to say after attending the Stronger Together: City Manager and City Council Relations seminar:

“One of the best courses I’ve taken through NLC University. The presenters were knowledgeable and connected with their audience. They stated goals for the class at the beginning and wrote them down in terms of outcome-based objectives. The structure worked like a charm.”

2017 NLC University Seminar Lineup at the Congressional City Conference:

  1. Healthy Cities: Lessons Learned from Crisis Leadership
  2. Stronger Together: City Manager and City Council Relations
  3. Urban Plan for Elected Officials
  4. An Introduction to the Intersector Process: Cross-Sector Collaboration in the Public Sector
  5. Congratulations, You Got Elected – Now What?
  6. REAL Action: Advancing Racial Equity in Local Government
  7. The Role of City Leaders in Public Sector Retirement
  8. Fostering Small Business Development and Entrepreneurship
  9. Let’s Talk Climate: Messages to Motivate
  10. The Ethical Leader: Rules and Tools
  11. Understanding Public Finance
  12. Federal Advocacy 101 (offered twice)

Featured trainers and presenters include:

  • Julie Willems Van Dijk – Associate Scientist and Director – County Health Rankings & Roadmaps Program
  • Kathryn Pettit – Senior Research Associate in the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center – Urban Institute
  • John Chesser – Enterprise Management Analyst – Mecklenburg County; Charlotte, NC
  • Janet A. Phoenix – Assistant Research Professor – George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health
  • Karen Seaver Hill – Director – Children’s Hospital Association
  • Steve Traina – Branch Manager – Institute for Building Technology and Safety
  • Erica Bueno – Program Coordinator – Institute for Building Technology and Safety
  • Brian Delvaux – Contracts Manager – Institute for Building Technology and Safety
  • Blake Ratcliff – Director – Institute for Building Technology and Safety
  • Chris Fennell – Project Leader – IBTS OnHand Resource
  • Mike Conduff – President of the Elim Group and Former City Manager – The Elim Group
  • Jim Hunt – President & Founder of Amazing Cities and Past President of NLC – Amazing Cities
  • Sean Geygen – Urban Land Institute, Washington, DC
  • Sophie Lambert – Senior Director of UrbanPlan – Urban Land Institute, Washington, DC
  • Gideon Berger – Director of the Daniel Rose Fellowship Program – The National League of Cities
  • Jess Zimbabwe – Executive Director of the Daniel Rose Center for Public Leadership – The National League of Cities
  • Jacquelyn Wax – Communications Director – The Intersector Project
  • Neil Britto – Executive Director – The Intersector Project
  • Malcom Chapman – President – The Chapman Group
  • Simran Noor – Vice President of Policy & Programs – Center for Social Inclusion
  • Julie Nelson – Senior Vice-President – Center for Social Inclusion and Director of the Government Alliance for Race and Equity (GARE)
  • Leon Andrews – Director, Race Equity And Leadership (REAL) – National League of Cities
  • John Saeli – Vice President, Government Affairs and Market Development – ICMA-RC
  • Jeannine Markoe Raymond – Director of Federal Relations – National Association of State Retirement Administrators
  • Keith Brainard – Research director – NASRA
  • David Myers – Executive Director – Ponca City Development Authority
  • Penny Lewandowski – Senior consultant, External relations – Edward Lowe Foundation
  • Dan Barry – Director – Path to Positive Communities
  • Scott Paine – Director of Leadership Development and Education at the Florida League of Cities
  • Laura Allen – Town Administrator – Berlin, MD
  • Mike Mucha – Deputy Executive Director and Director – GFOA Research and Consulting Center
  • Ashley Smith – Senior Associate, Grassroots Advocacy – National League of Cities

Join colleagues for one (or many) of the outstanding NLC University seminars offered at the Congressional City Conference. NLC University will also host a Leadership Summit in San Diego, California, October 2-5 as well as pre-conference sessions at the 2017 City Summit in Charlotte, North Carolina, November 15-18.

About the authors:

Chris Abbott is a Senior Associate at the National League of Cities University.

 

 

Laura Lanford is the Principal Associate for Leadership Training at the National League of Cities University.

Four Takeaways from the California Afterschool and Summer Nutrition Summits

For local officials, now is the perfect time to convene community partners to ensure your city is utilizing all available resources that help keep children engaged and healthy when school is out.

Implementing successful meal programs – and sustaining them – takes coordination and collaboration on many levels. (Getty Images)

This post was co-authored by Clarissa Hayes and Dawn Schluckebier. It originally ran as part of the Food Research & Action Center’s FRAC On the Move series, which follows policy and program experts as they connect with advocates across the country to explore strategies and develop solutions to end hunger.

Representatives from the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) and the National League of Cities (NLC) recently joined the California Department of Education and more than 250 California representatives from local governments, school nutrition departments, food banks, law enforcement agencies, libraries, county health departments, community-based organizations, literacy and youth development agencies at two regional afterschool and summer nutrition summits, one in Richmond and one in San Bernardino County.

Hosted by the California Summer Meal Coalition, the summits provided attendees the opportunity to learn more about federally-funded summer and afterschool meal programs and share ideas and best practices for increasing the number of children served in their communities.

The Coalition – a program of the Institute for Local Government – is a key partner in NLC and FRAC’s Cities Combating Hunger through Afterschool and Summer Meal Programs (CHAMPS) initiative. CHAMPS has provided support to more than 41 cities and 18 anti-hunger organizations across the country to develop and implement strategies to increase children’s access to healthy meals and snacks through the child nutrition programs.

This year, new CHAMPS projects are being launched in three states: Alabama, California, and Kansas. In California, NLC, FRAC and the Coalition are partnering to provide technical assistance to 11 grantee cities and a number of city agencies to increase participation in afterschool and summer meals.

Collaboration was the theme of both summits. Speakers and attendees discussed the importance of collaboration among city, county, school and community leaders to leverage limited resources. In Southern California, the summit was followed by a breakfast for elected city, county and school district leaders to highlight the critical role that elected officials can play to advance the health and well-being of their communities by supporting access to afterschool and summer meal programs.  These roles range from supporting the development of a citywide promotion campaign and participating in local community events to sponsoring and operating the Afterschool and Summer Nutrition Programs and working with county and school colleagues to identify solutions to out-of-school time barriers.

Attendees at both summits left energized and equipped with innovative strategies to try, new partners to engage, and a renewed commitment to year-round nutrition access. Four key summit takeaways:

City leaders can play a critical role in supporting meal programs.

Hayward City Councilman Mark Salinas shared an example of the important role city leaders and elected officials can play in expanding summer and afterschool meal programs. After hearing about the need in his community, and the federal funding available through the afterschool and summer nutrition programs, he engaged community stakeholders and brought partners together to better meet the nutritional needs of the children in his city.

Having a vision and setting goals is important.

Implementing successful meal programs – and sustaining them – takes coordination and collaboration on many levels. Having a vision for your city and setting goals for program growth is important. These programs take time to build, and setting realistic goals helps keep efforts on track. Find out where your state ranks in summer meals participation and where you may be able to target efforts.

No community should work in a vacuum.

To reach more children with summer and afterschool meal programs, it’s important for cities, counties and school districts to work together to ensure the well-being of kids in the community. Thinking holistically about the issue of hunger and the solutions that exist – and how to include out-of-school-time in that conversation – allows us all to think creatively about strategies and the unique strengths every organization can add.

When something works, share it.

When models work locally – whether it be a specific type of marketing campaign, a way to improve the quality and appeal of meals served, or a strategy to engage elected officials – it’s important to share them broadly so they can be scaled and tailored to other communities. FRAC and Feeding America’s Anti-Hunger Policy Conference is a great place to share and learn about successes across the country – register today!

If you are a city leader, now is the perfect time to convene community partners to ensure your city is utilizing all available resources that help keep children engaged and healthy when school is out. Reach out to the anti-hunger advocates in your state to see how you can get started today.

Learn more about CHAMPS and the work being done by the California Summer Meals Coalition.

About the Authors:

Clarissa Hayes is a Child Nutrition Policy Analyst with the Food Research & Action Center.

 

 

Dawn Schluckebier is a Principal Associate for Family Economic Success in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Dawn on Twitter at @TheSchluck.

For City Administrators, Open for Business Means Open for Benefits

In this guest post, Colonial Life’s Johnny Castro shares two reasons why benefits communication should be a year-round effort for local governments.

Research shows there’s a strong, direct tie between how employees feel about their benefits communication and how they feel about the place they work. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Johnny Castro.

If your city government functions like most companies in America, you just completed your annual benefits enrollment. The meetings are over, the posters are down, and the enrollment forms are tidied away in their virtual filing cabinet. Even with good benefits providers on your team doing the heavy lifting, it was likely a lot of work. Thank goodness it only happens once a year – except for a few new employees you’ll probably hire over the next year, you’re good until next fall, right?

In order to truly maximize the major investment your city administrators make in its benefits program, helping city employees understand and make the best use of their benefits requires year-round effort. But it’s worth the work, and here are two great reasons: employee engagement and cost control.

Build a bond with workers

Strong benefits communication does more than help your employees make better benefits choices during open enrollment – it also helps you hold onto your top talent by increasing job satisfaction and workplace loyalty. Research shows there’s a strong, direct tie between how employees feel about their benefits communication and how they feel about the place they work. In fact, employees who rate their benefits education highly are also 76 percent more likely to rate their workplaces as very good or excellent, according to a Colonial Life/Unum U.S. Worker Benefits Survey released last year.

Building a strong, long-term relationship with your employees drives up retention, morale and productivity. Think about what it costs you to replace a worker who leaves for perceived greener pastures. Now add in the resource drain of performance-managing out a disengaged employee who later then must be replaced. While great benefits communication alone isn’t going to change a slacker into a superstar, there’s a clear connection between how well you communicate and how committed your employees are to their work and your government agency.

The bottom line on the bottom line

Avoiding turnover is only part of the cost-control formula. There are hard dollar costs associated with your employees not understanding and using their benefits to protect their health and well-being. Take chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity and arthritis, for example. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say they account for three-fourths of health care costs. In fact, the Arthritis Foundation says arthritis is the nation’s top cause of disability.

Yet these types of chronic conditions are among the most preventable problems. Not taking advantage of preventive care coverage such as health screenings and flu shots for fear of the doctor’s bill can lead to more serious illnesses and lost time at work that might have been avoided.

If your city offers more than one health plan option — for example, a lower-deductible, higher-premium traditional preferred provider organization plan or a high-deductible “consumer-driven” plan with lower premiums — it’s important for your employees to understand how each works so they can make the best financial and health decisions for themselves and their families. Health savings accounts and flexible spending accounts can help employees plan for and manage health care expenses — but only if they participate in them. And that won’t happen if they don’t understand them.

By the way, if you’re ready to pat yourself on the back because your benefits communication is pretty good, you might want to ask your employees if they agree. Research shows there’s a pretty big disconnect on this issue. Less than 40 percent of employers have a formal benefits communication plan (surely, you’re not one of those), yet the vast majority — 90 percent — think their approach is effective, according to LIMRA’s 2016 Help Employers Connect the Dots report. But only a third of employees in our U.S. Worker survey said they understand their benefits very well.

Keep talking

Keeping the benefits conversation going all year long doesn’t have to drain your resources. Here are some simple low- or no-cost ideas for city administrators to build benefits and health knowledge beyond enrollment season:

  • Benefit of the month — Run a series of articles on your employee intranet site explaining in plain language different benefits and how to tell if they’re a good fit. Just because you explained the difference between term and whole life six months ago doesn’t mean every employee will remember the details. Keep the articles archived where they’re easy to find.
  • Share success stories — Use email newsletters, websites or visual displays to celebrate employees who are proud to share they’ve lost weight, committed to an exercise program, or reduced their dependence on medication for high cholesterol, for example.
  • Think seasonally — Create a calendar to talk with employees about seasonal health issues such as staying in shape in the winter and safety for outdoor summer activities.
  • Promote free external resources — Websites such as Colonial Life’s WorkLife have a wealth of information on benefits and health. Or check out Colonial Life’s interactive Benefits Learning Center, which can be customized with your benefits.
  • Bring in experts — Invite your benefits providers to hold open hours or brown-bag lunch-and-learns to explain different benefits throughout the year and answer employees’ questions.

If you’d like to learn more about how to keep the benefits conversation going with your employees all year, call or email us. They say talk is cheap – but in our opinion, it’s sometimes priceless.

About the author: Johnny Castro is assistant vice president of public sector at Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Company. He can be reached at JCastro@ColonialLife.com or (803) 678-6746. Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Company is a market leader in providing financial protection benefits through the workplace, including disability, life, accident, dental, cancer, critical illness and hospital confinement indemnity insurance. The company’s benefit services and education, innovative enrollment technology and personal service support 85,000 businesses and organizations, representing 3.5 million American workers and their families.

Cross-sector Collaboration is a Critical Tool for City Leaders

The Intersector Project’s Neil Britto offers a number of resources to help local officials cope with declining budgets, a changing public-private partnership arena, and the inadequacy of a single-sector approach to problem solving.

(Wikimedia Commons)

As in the world of motorsports, collaboration in the public service arena can produce results that are impossible to achieve without the efforts of many individuals working together. (Wikimedia Commons)

This is a guest post by Neil Britto of the Intersector Project.

While cross-sector collaboration isn’t new, city leaders across the country are adopting collaborative approaches in increasing numbers. Why is collaboration in the United States more important now than ever?

Single-sector inadequacy
There seems to be consensus from leaders across sectors and issues that the critical challenges facing our communities today are unsolvable, or at least not easily solvable, by single-sector efforts. Arguably, this has always been the case – but trust in government is at a notable low, and there is increasing recognition that sectors have complementary strengths and ought to find ways to work together.

Declining public budgets
In an era of constrained public-sector budgets, the assets of other sectors need to be deployed to support public well-being. Since the Great Recession, the public sector has lost more 700,000 jobs. Discretionary spending budgets by public-sector managers have been severely cut. At the same time, citizens are demanding more, better and faster services from their government.

The evolving nature of public-private partnerships
A recent report from the Fels Institute suggests that 92 percent of the National Association of State Chief Administrators agreed that government and private organizations should develop new processes to create partnerships that were not simply transactional but relational, relying not only on contracting but shared resources, risks and decision-making processes.

Our Work

At the Intersector Project, we work to advance cross-sector collaboration by creating accessible, credible and practically valuable resources and research that are publicly available in full through our website.

  • We’ve developed one of the country’s leading case study libraries on cross-sector collaboration in the United States. Our 40 cases range in issue area from infrastructure to education, are written with a practitioner audience in mind, and all are freely available online.
  • We’ve also created a Toolkit – a “how-to” guide for practitioners of cross-sector collaboration in every issue area. We recommend practitioners download the Toolkit from our website, distribute to core partners in early planning stages, and use the resource to support shared understanding of key elements for their collaborative process and to create a common language for those elements.
  • Another key resource we’ve created for practitioners is our Resource Library, an online, searchable catalog of hundreds of quality resources related to cross-sector collaboration from research organizations, advisory groups, training organizations, academic centers and journals, and other sources. These resources relate to a wide variety of partnership types (from contractual public-private partnerships to community partnerships) and a broad array of issues such as transportation, education, public health and more.

The Intersector Project has made a unique commitment to connecting research to practice by maintaining active relationships with groups in both arenas and working to produce content that brings them together. For example, we publish a research brief that highlights the latest research relevant to cross-sector collaboration, and an in-depth look at one article per month through our Research to Practice series. We also invite scholars to distill their research for our practitioner audience in our Researcher Insights series.

We work to engage with a wide variety of thinkers and practitioners on this topic as well, from designers of innovative public-private partnership mechanisms at NASA to local government managers pursuing improved service delivery for their constituencies. We teach, facilitate, moderate, and lead events with leading membership organizations like the National League of Cities, the American Society for Public Administration, CEOs for Cities, the Alliance for Innovation, the National Association of Counties, and the International City/County Management Association. We also work with leadership development and fellowship organizations like the Presidio Cross-Sector Leadership Fellows and Coro Leadership programs in New York, and with issue-oriented groups like the National Resources Defense Council to provide resources and expertise to personnel who work across sectors.

Throughout our work, we strive to maintain the key features that distinguish us. While many organizations focus on cross-sector collaboration in a global context, our commentary, research, and thinking focuses particularly on the United States. Our work is sector- and issue-neutral, created for practitioners from all sectors working on a range of issues across the nation. Also, because the models and methods for cross-sector collaboration are proliferating, the Intersector Project’s resources speak to the broad array of collaborative approaches that practitioners in the field are actively using to solve problems.

Our NLC University Seminar

This March, we’ll be hosting a NLC University seminar, “An Introduction to the Intersector Process: Cross-sector Collaboration in the Public Sector,” at the 2017 Congressional City Conference. The seminar is designed to introduce public-sector officials and staff to key management tactics for cross-sector collaboration through an interactive training session.

Each sector – and indeed, each entity within the sectors – has its own language, culture, and work practices, which can prove challenging to align when pursuing shared goals in a consensus-oriented environment. Our three-hour training session includes interactive activities designed to help participants deepen their awareness of these differences, commentary on trends relevant to cross-sector collaboration, and a facilitated discussion to support peer learning. It also includes an introduction to the Intersector Project Toolkit as a planning guide designed to assist practitioners in navigating differences between sectors and overcoming barriers to effective partnership.

The session also includes a simulated exercise through which stakeholders will design and negotiate a detailed partnership agreement to create an effective framework within which the partners can work and lay a foundation for sustained collaboration. In the context of a transportation and air quality collaboration comprising 48 organizations, including local, county, and state government, business, environmental interests, community groups, and more, participants will consider key design choices related to decision-making structure, resource allocation, project management and more.

In an era of rising public expectations and declining resources, our NLC University session will equip you with tools and resources to lead effective cross-sector collaborations in your community. We look forward to seeing you in March.

The Intersector Project previously published a CitiesSpeak blog post on Boston’s innovation district.

About the author: The Intersector Project is a nonprofit organization that seeks to empower practitioners in the business, government, and nonprofit sectors to collaborate to solve problems that cannot be solved by one sector alone. We present real examples of collaborations in many places and across many issues, and illuminate the tools that make them successful. Visit us at intersector.com, and follow us on Twitter @theintersector.

Improving Outcomes for Youth in the Juvenile Justice System

A new online resource with concrete strategies, tools, examples, and best-practice models is available to city officials looking for positive results from their municipality’s juvenile justice system programs.

(Getty Images)

City leaders play a key role in supporting the high-quality implementation of juvenile justice system policies and practices. The coordinated efforts of federal, state and local leaders can ensure that programming for youth in the juvenile justice system results in positive and sustainable outcomes for youth, their families and communities. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Elizabeth Seigle.

Research and field experience have demonstrated that the substance of a particular juvenile justice policy, practice or program is only as good its implementation. It is up to local policymakers and system leaders to prioritize the high-quality implementation of research-informed policies and practices. Without strategies and tools for guiding implementation processes, juvenile justice practitioners may fall short of producing significant results.

In January, the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center released the Juvenile Justice Research-to-Practice Implementation Resources. These online resources provide juvenile justice agency managers, staff, and other practitioners with concrete strategies, tools, examples, and best-practice models to help them implement research-informed policies and practices. Mayors and municipal officials may refer to these resources when advancing efforts in their own cities that are aimed at improving outcomes for youth in the juvenile justice system, and use them to help ensure that changes to policy, practice and resource allocations reflect best practice and are implemented properly.

The resources, organized by common challenges for juvenile justice programs and agencies, draw from the expertise of researchers and promising practices identified by practitioners around the country. Each resource offers methods to address those common challenges, specifically in the areas of Family Engagement and Involvement and Evidence-Based Programs and Services.

Family Engagement and Involvement

Practitioners often struggle to engage, involve, and empower the families of youth in the juvenile justice system. Because they work at the level of government closest to communities, city leaders can support local juvenile justice agency managers as they partner with leaders from probation offices, detention centers and community-based providers to apply several family engagement and involvement strategies, including:

  • Defining family broadly and identifying family members and other supportive adults using visual tools, questionnaires, and other models from the field
  • Establishing a culture of alliance with families who have children in the juvenile justice system through staff trainings, family-focused policies and protocols, family guides and peer supports
  • Involving families in supervision and service decisions through family team meetings, group conferencing models and family-oriented, evidence-based programs
  • Providing family contact opportunities for youth in facilities through flexible and inclusive policies, transportation assistance, communication technology and events to celebrate youth
  • Establishing and tracking family engagement performance measures through family advisory groups, family surveys and focus groups

Evidence-Based Programs and Services

Juvenile justice agencies and contracted service providers frequently encounter challenges in identifying appropriate evidence-based programs and services and implementing them properly, consistently and in ways that lead to better outcomes for youth. City leaders can work with their local juvenile justice agency to adopt several strategies for effectively implementing evidence-based programs and services for youth in the justice system, including:

  • Developing city ordinances that provide or increase funding for evidence-based programs and services, as well as funding for training staff and service providers in the proper implementation of evidence-based programs and services
  • Creating city council policy or legislation that mandates the establishment of service quality standards for youth in facilities or in the community
  • Requiring juvenile justice systems and service providers to regularly report to the city council on the progress and outcomes of youth under juvenile justice system supervision and on the performance of service providers

When city leaders champion proven strategies and multisystem collaboration, they emphasize the importance of effective, thoughtful juvenile justice strategies for the whole community.

elizabeth_seigle_125x150About the Author: Elizabeth Seigle is the grantee technical assistance manager for Corrections and Reentry at the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center. She oversees technical assistance to local and state juvenile justice agencies implementing the Second Chance Act and other programs funded by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs and awarded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Ms. Seigle also supports the CSG Justice Center’s juvenile justice projects and initiatives.