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.

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.

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.

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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.

 

For Students Dropped Out of School, Local Reenrollment Programs Actually Work

NLC’s 2016 Reengagement census suggests a very positive return on investment for cities that pursue a systematic approach to academic reenrollment programs.

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Reengagement programs gave thousands of disconnected youth the opportunity to return to the classroom in the 2015-2016 academic year. (Getty Images)

The newest census of dropout reengagement programs from the National League of Cities (NLC) shows continuing growth in this field designed to plug a critical gap for several million youth and young adults who lack high school diplomas. The 2015-2016 data collected in the census also suggests a sustained high level of effectiveness at keeping students engaged once reenrolled in most sites, and provides important benchmarking and performance data for program operators. All told, the census suggests a very positive return on investment for cities that pursue a systematic approach to reengagement.

Via partnerships between cities, school districts, community colleges, workforce boards and others, in aggregate the 20 programs across the country responding to the census reach out to 48,077 disengaged students. Reengagement programs assisted 24,140 of those students in completing the intake process, ultimately placing 12,319 students into education programs.

The reengagement programs generally take the form of a brick-and-mortar location where students who have left the traditional education system can go to receive assistance from specialists who help them find their best-fit academic program so the students may complete their secondary education.

This year, 17 out of the 20 reengagement programs that work with NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families submitted data on where their students decided to enroll. Roughly 80 percent of students chose to attend either Alternative High Schools (39.5 percent) or GED/Adult Education Programs (38.5 percent). The remaining students chose to attend online degree programs, charter or private schools, job-training programs and other forms of educational assistance.

To track the efficacy of reengagement programs, the census asks sites to report on their persistence rate, or “stick rate” – the percentage of students who persist in or graduate from an education program in the academic year in which they reenroll. The average stick rate across 11 sites, representing 6,564 students, came in at 70.8 percent, very similar to prior years. The median stick rate stood at 67.2 percent, implying that the aggregate average skewed high as several sites reported very high stick rates. Most sites’ stick rates, however, fell within the 60 to 66 percent range.

Examining the 2016 demographic data, there appears to be little change from prior years’ data. Black and Latino students remain the most commonly reported race and ethnic categories for students placed by sites. The census found a slight decline in the number of Latino students reported from the 2015 Reengagement Census, but that change appears almost entirely due to the absence of census figures from one large site.

Trends among the ages of youth placed also continued as before, with the average reengagement student being 18 years old. The majority of students placed by reengagement programs were between the ages of 17 and 19.

Regarding gender breakdown, there was significant variation in the male-to-female ratios for those placed in reengagement programs. In some programs, males constituted an overwhelming majority of students placed, while the opposite was true in other programs. Ultimately, the average gender representation across sites showed males at 55 percent and females at 44 percent overall.

The census also collected data regarding the grade level of students at the time of placement. The most common category here was ninth grade followed by tenth grade, a pattern that continued until twelfth grade. The census found a few programs that placed students into eighth grade, i.e. middle school programs.

It is critical that students who have dropped out are given opportunities to reconnect back to education options that will prepare them for a successful adulthood. As reengagement programs continue to spread across the nation, NLC looks forward to supporting their efforts.

Join Andrew Moore, NLC’s Director of Youth and Young Adult Connections, and Niels Smith, 2016-17 Heinz Graduate Fellow, to learn more about the study and trends of Reengagement Centers across the country in a webinar on Friday, February 24 at 2 p.m. EST. Register here.

niels_smith_125x150About the author: Niels Smith is a Heinz Fellow at NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. He is currently completing his degree in Public Policy and Management at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College. Contact Niels at nsmith@nlc.org.

Forecasting the Role of Cities in Education

Both cities and the federal government want great schools because they help create a strong workforce, boosting the economy at a local and national level – but the legal and fiscal powers of both levels of government are limited, and the policies of the new administration will likely complicate this dynamic even more.

(NLC)

(NLC)

In the first installment of this series, we looked at the basics of federalism and why it matters to cities. Part two of the series focused on how one policy – affordable housing assistance – has changed with the interpretation of federalism, and what that means for cities today. In this post, we examine federalism in the context of the American educational system.

The expectation that government should provide accessible, quality education for all has become deeply engrained in the American psyche. This responsibility, however, falls squarely on the shoulders of local governments. Quality education is most often a local responsibility, increasingly paid for at the state level, and managed by policies set at the national level. More specifically, states and local school districts have always made the critical decisions about education, from who should teach to what should be taught. The role of the federal government has been more limited; education policy has long flowed from the bottom up, with the federal government often expanding innovative local policies nationally. For these reasons, education presents an interesting look at federalism.

History of National Education Policy

While the role of the federal government in education has been muted, its level of involvement has steadily increased over the last sixty years. Federal interest in schools was triggered by the launch of the Sputnik satellite by the Soviet Union in 1957 and the fear that American education was falling behind on a global scale. In 1965, President Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, delivering resources to poor urban and rural schools. Later in the 1960s and into the 1970s, the federal government worked to combat de facto segregation in public schools. The Department of Education became its own cabinet-level department in the Carter administration, only to see its budget severely reduced during Reagan’s tenure.

Similar to other policies, education policy followed the trend of heightened national importance during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, with the focus shifting back to the states during the Reagan administration. However, these federal trends coupled with changes at the state level to constrain public school budgets. Funding for education, which has typically been tied to property tax revenues, started to come under threat in 1978 when California was the first state to pass a limit on local tax collection. In 1979, state spending overtook local spending as the largest source of education funding, in effect limiting local autonomy.

Today, the federal government contributes between 8 and 10 percent of the public education budget. This amounts to $55 billion annually as of FY 2013, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Much of this funding is discretionary, which means that Congress sets the amount annually through the appropriations process.

The most recent era of federalism, while hard to define, has largely focused on accountability and performance – doing more with less money. No policy area exemplifies this better than education, and no particular legislation better than the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act. Enacted at the outset of the George W. Bush administration, NCLB was built on the premise that standards should be equalized across states so that a school’s performance could be accurately measured. These priorities continued during the Obama administration with the Race to the Top program, which rewarded states that adopted common standards and broadened performance metrics.

In the Trump administration, the Department of Education will be led by Betsy DeVos. Secretary DeVos has been an advocate for school choice, meaning the privatization of education through school voucher programs and the expansion of charter schools. It is likely she will bring her views on education reform to the Department.

Because of recent reforms to federal education funding, local governments and school districts are under pressure to ensure schools are performing adequately or they risk losing critical funding to privatization. If Vice President Mike Pence’s tenure as Indiana governor is any indication, the Administration will likely move to expand charters and voucher programs. When the vice president was governor, Indiana shifted millions of dollars shifted away from public schools, and more children from middle-income families received vouchers to attend private schools.

Steps Cities Can Take Moving Forward

While education policy is administered at the local level, city governments often do not have direct oversight of their public schools. In some municipalities, school boards are jointly appointed by the mayor, city councilors, and/or the governor. In contrast, many school districts are independent special-purpose governments with leadership that is elected rather than appointed by city officials. In both of these scenarios, the policies of the new administration will likely add to the complexity of local-federal relationships in the education arena even more.

However, whether or not cities are directly responsible for their public schools, local governments can still lead (or expand) educational programs. Many cities offer programs during out-of-school times, either in the evenings or during the summer. These programs enrich the education experience, prepare students for specific careers, or help close the racial achievement gap.

Cities can also use data to improve their school systems. In the City of Nashville, for example, a partnership between Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) and the city-funded afterschool program for middle school youth, the Nashville After Zone Alliance (NAZA), has significantly improved students’ reading ability in just three months. This is exactly the type of partnership and focus students need, especially if they are struggling or falling behind. In another example of partnerships, NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families teamed-up with MomsRising and School Readiness Consulting to produce Strong Start for Strong Cities, an early learning resource guide for mayors, councilmembers and other municipal leaders.

Finally, local elected officials can exercise leadership to support youth education beginning with pre-school, expand alternatives for students who struggle in traditional educational settings, increase high school graduation rates, and promote college access and completion.

To learn more about what NLC is doing in this policy arena – and make your voice heard at the federal level – join us at the Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C., March 11-15.

Trevor Langan 125x150About the author: Trevor Langan is the Research Associate for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities.

Local Leaders Take on Tough Issues to Support the Early Childhood Workforce

Giving proper support to the people who care for young children is really a matter of infrastructure in any city – and city leaders should treat it with that level of importance. Here are five key takeaways from the Early Childhood Workforce meeting that occurred in Washington, D.C. earlier this month.

ohort members from Kansas City discuss education at the Early Childhood Workforce Cross Site Meeting hosted by NLC. Throughout the meeting, city leaders had rich and informative discussions with one another and shared insights, best practices, and solutions to tricky challenges. (photo: NLC)

Cohort members from Kansas City discuss education at the Early Childhood Workforce Cross Site Meeting hosted by NLC. Throughout the meeting, city leaders had rich and informative discussions with one another and shared insights, best practices, and solutions to tricky challenges. (photo: NLC)

Leaders from seven cities joined the National League of Cities (NLC) in Washington, D.C. earlier this month to kick off the Institute for Youth, Education, and Families’ Cities Supporting the Early Childhood Workforce initiative. These local leaders, along with experts from NLC and its partner organizations, explored ways to support and transform the early childhood workforce in their communities, as well as the challenges they may face.

Local officials from Hartford, Connecticut; Jacksonville, Florida; Kansas City, Missouri; San Francisco; Rochester, New York; Richmond, Virginia; and Seattle engaged in rich and informative discussions with Winona Hao, program manager at the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), and Kat Kempe, senior director for professional recognition and advancement at the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), which are both partnering with NLC in the initiative.

Here are five key takeaways from the meeting:

  • Cities are leading the way with innovative methods of supporting the professionals that care for our cities’ youngest residents. The Jacksonville Children’s Commission coordinates a network of local agencies to provide coaching services to staff in local child care centers. In Richmond, the Office of Community Wealth Building is using a poverty reduction lens to tackle early childhood issues, which includes bringing the voices of those living in impoverished communities to the forefront of the decision-making process. These are just two of the many efforts cities are already undertaking to make sure early childhood professionals have the supports they need.
  • Low salaries for most early childhood workers is a persistent problem that must be addressed in any efforts to support this workforce. Caitlin McLean, workforce research specialist at the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (CSCCE) at the University of California at Berkeley, presented CSCEE’s robust collection of data that tracks conditions and policies for the early childhood workforce in each state. McLean shared strategies localities have used to address compensation, such as wage supplements and salary parity for pre-k teachers.
  • The early childhood workforce is infrastructure (and other tips to effectively talk about the value of the early childhood workforce). Sherry Cleary, executive director of the New York Early Childhood Professional Development Institute, shared effective messaging strategies in communicating the importance of supporting the early childhood workforce with key policymakers and other stakeholders. Cleary explained that giving the proper supports to the people who care for young children is crucial infrastructure in any city, and we need to treat it with that level of importance. She also shared that those advocating for the early childhood workforce should closely align their work with a mayor’s strategic priorities in order to gain increased support.
  • We need to talk about the impact of early childhood trauma – not just on children, but on the early childhood workforce, too. More and more exciting efforts are being made to incorporate the impact of early childhood trauma into systems of care for young children. However, individuals who care for children haven often experienced trauma themselves. While we continue to think about trauma’s impact on young children, we must simultaneously take steps to incorporate trauma-informed care into professional development systems for the workforce.
  • Partnerships with higher education are key to deepening support for the early childhood workforce. Kim Owens, the Grow NJ Kids incentives coordinator at the New Jersey Department of Human Services, described partnerships that the state of New Jersey has with five different institutions of higher education. These partnerships allow New Jersey to jointly administer many programs that they would not be able to administer on their own, such as a statewide workforce registry and training for early education providers. Dr. Antoinette Mitchell, assistant superintendent of postsecondary and career education for the Washington, D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education, told city leaders about Washington’s program that gives high school students career and technical education to move them toward credentialing as early childhood educators.

To learn more about the YEF Institute’s Cities Supporting the Early Childhood Workforce project, click here.

About the author: Alana Eichner is the Early Childhood Associate in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

Cities Can Lead National Effort to Get More Young People Working Again

Here are three specific areas in which cities and their partners can continue to demonstrate effective practices, adopt supportive policies, and determine what’s needed to grow initiatives that benefit more youth.

(Getty Images)

Working constitutes a critically needed developmental experience, puts money in the pockets of youth and their families to spend locally, and builds social capital that pays off over the long term. (Getty Images)

“A country for all, and all working when able.” If more city leaders were to adopt this vision – along with those of us providing support and assistance at the national level – we could continue to build effective local stair-step responses to a nagging national dilemma: nearly six million youth and young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 remain out of school and out of work, and less than 50 percent of youth work each summer.

As we enter into a new era of national politics, it’s wise to recall that the federal government has a critical role in assuring high quality and fairness nationwide in areas such as housing, health care, infrastructure and the environment, under an umbrella characterized by equal justice, equal opportunity, and improved outcomes for lagging groups. And when it comes to scaling what’s effective or signaling what’s important, the federal government has no peer. Yet the intensity of a presidential campaign and transition taking place in a 24-hour news cycle has a distorting effect worth noting that, too often, obliterates individuals’ sense of agency and conveys instead that “it all comes down to what happens in Washington, D.C.”

In fact, in policy areas essential to getting more young people working, cities and their partners can continue to demonstrate effective practices, adopt supportive policies, and determine what’s needed to grow initiatives to benefit still more youth – with more long-term impact. For instance, three areas to consider:

  • Reengagement of Out-of-School Youth: Over the past several years, mayors and other city leaders across the country have jumped at the opportunity to institute structured approaches to help young people finish school so they can reach the baseline qualification needed just to enter the labor market. Those same leaders also witness the persistently high cost of school dropout and pushout along dimensions ranging from public budgets to neighborhood efficacy. With too many young people still not finishing high school, and concentration of that effect in people of color and low-income communities, cities and towns have plenty of reasons to advocate for and support comprehensive reengagement initiatives. Even as the past year has seen an uptick in federal attention to reengagement, local energy and funds will continue to drive the spread of reengagement beyond its presence in some 20 cities and two states.
  • Summer Youth Employment: Mayors and the cities they lead stand at the vanguard of efforts to reduce the catastrophic recent trend of declining work experience for youth and young adults. Working constitutes a critically needed developmental experience, puts money in the pockets of youth and their families to spend locally, and builds social capital that pays off over the long term. Efforts to grow high-quality local youth hiring initiatives with the all-in participation of city governments and private sector employers might smartly leverage some federal funds, but ultimately will not depend on federal sources. Showing the benefits of bringing a new focus to summer jobs programs, to ensure that young people who need jobs the most get jobs – alternative school students, for example – must begin at the local level.
  • Juvenile Justice Reform and Jail Reduction: Cities have begun to join county and state partners in efforts to hold youth and young adults accountable in developmentally appropriate ways. In keeping with the goal of getting young people to work, reducing justice system involvement and attendant long-tail records removes a potentially significant barrier to employment. For those who do develop records, Ban the Box and similar strategies playing out mainly at the local level hold promise as tools for effective reintegration.

Meanwhile, as elements of city government, police departments have a particularly prominent role in shifting what happens at the first moments of contact between an officer and a young person, in most cases away from an emphasis on arrest and toward increased supports or formal diversion and restorative justice. Federal support could promote continued peer learning and sharing about police training, diversion, and related practices, yet has not proven essential in instituting reforms to date. Building out a robust continuum of supports and services for youth – with the major exception of mental and behavioral health services supported by Medicaid – remains a largely local and locally-funded task, alongside training and support for police officers.

Demonstrated local success in these three areas (and others) will “trickle up” to the state and federal levels.  The portion of the youth development field focused on older youth has at least six million reasons to continue generating such concrete successes.

Andrew Moore About the author: Andrew Moore is the Director of Youth and Young Adult Connections in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education & Families. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewOMoore.

Seven Cities Activate Strategies to Connect Kids to Nature

“Imagine a city known for excellent environmental education because its parks are natural classroom. As a city, we are creating greater access to nature for all of our younger residents.” -Grand Rapids, Michigan, Mayor Rosalynn Bliss

City leaders address disparities in children’s opportunities to play, grow, and learn in the outdoors through Cities Connecting Children to Nature (CCCN), a partnership between NLC and Children & Nature Network.

In November, seven Cities Connecting Children to Nature (CCCN) sites began implementing strategies for connecting children to nature more equitably in their cities. Mayors like Rosalynn Bliss of Grand Rapids, Michigan, seek to restore childhood to the outdoors and commissioned eight months of community dialogue, policy scans, nature-mapping, and network building to inform strategies for action, such as:

  • Developing green schoolyards and enhancing access to nature at public elementary schools and early childcare facilities
  • Connecting to nature through out-of-school time programming
  • Cultivating youth leadership and stewardship
  • Bringing more diverse groups of residents in regular contact with natural features in city park systems

The chart below indicates priority strategies among the pilot cities: Saint Paul, Minnesota; Madison, Wisconsin; Grand Rapids; Providence, Rhode Island; Louisville, Kentucky; Austin, Texas; and San Francisco.

(NLC)

(NLC)

Over the next three years, each of these cities will execute its priority strategies with peer exchange, learning and technical assistance from the CCCN partners and $50,000 grants to kick start city efforts for at least the next nine months. Prominent strategies rely on involvement of key partners such as parks and recreation agencies, school districts, out-of-school time networks, conservation and youth development organizations, and elected and community leaders, as well as adult and youth residents. A metrics framework drawing upon cities’ initial assessment practices and indicators will inform a broader field of cities and partners seeking to measure both systems-level change and direct impact on children. CCCN partners will offer additional resources for municipal action in the coming months, including in-person opportunities detailed below.

Join Us to Learn More

Representatives of the seven-city cohort will share its implementation and planning experience at the 2017 International Conference and Summit of the Children & Nature Network (C&NN), April 18-21 in Vancouver, British Columbia. C&NN extends an open invitation to a wide variety of additional participants to attend the Conference and Summit including other city leaders, planners, public health advocates, field practitioners and thought leaders committed to advancing policies, partnerships and programming for connecting children to nature.

Additionally, city parks professionals can learn more from Austin and the other CCCN cities at a May 17-19 National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) Connecting Kids to Nature Innovation Lab.

The CCCN webinar series begins with “Emerging City Strategies to Connect Children to Nature” on Thursday, February 23, from 2:00-3:00 p.m. EST. Register here to learn more about the priority strategies adopted by CCCN pilot sites.

Cities Connecting Children to Nature is a partnership between NLC and Children & Nature Network. Connect with CCCN through upcoming conferences, webinars, and our newsletter.

priya_cook_125x150About the author: Priya Cook is the Principal Associate for the Connecting Children to Nature program, the newest program of NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

Connecting the Dots: Leveraging Community Benefit Programs with City Leadership

 “When you look at maps of neighboring communities and ZIP codes and see significant disparities in life expectancy within a couple of miles – sometimes blocks – you’re compelled to advance policies to address those gaps in a meaningful way.” – Mayor David Baker of Kenmore, Washington.

Mayors and other city leaders address health issues every day, and they need a variety of strong partnerships to fully leverage the assets in their cities. (Getty Images)

Mayors and other city leaders address health issues every day, and they need a variety of strong partnerships to fully leverage the assets in their cities. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Nancy Zuech Lim and Sue Pechilio Polis. The post was originally published on Health Progress, the journal of the Catholic Health Association of the United States.

We know community benefit programs work with a variety of local partners, including faith-based organizations, nonprofits, local health departments, even other hospitals. But another type of critical partner is often overlooked: local city leaders.

Where we live, work, learn, grow, play and pray impacts our health and well-being. These, and the wider set of forces and systems shaping the conditions of daily life, are known as the social determinants of health. According to the World Health Organization, “conditions such as environment, housing, economy and policies impact the health and well-being of our communities.” Access to meaningful educational and economic opportunities vary by place and ultimately affect how long and how well we live – and mayors and city leaders play a pivotal role in ensuring access to those opportunities.

To be truly healthy, one not only needs high quality health care but also access to high quality early childhood programs, good schools, good jobs, affordable housing, safe and active transportation options, places to play, and healthy foods. Mayors and other city leaders address these issues every day, and they need a variety of strong partnerships to fully leverage the assets in their cities.

Hospitals and city officials can work together to address the social determinants of health and well-being through policy, structural and environmental changes in order to ensure sustainable improvements for city residents. Here are the steps they can take on three different levels:

  1. Individual and family level: build awareness of healthy behaviors, address barriers, and support ways that basic needs can be met.
  2. Neighborhood and community level: build communities that decrease barriers to ensure the healthy choice is the easy choice in every neighborhood.
  3. Policy level: promote policies that support healthy choices and healthy behaviors. Because community benefit programs are moving beyond hospital walls, the time is ripe for hospitals to further align efforts with city leaders and departments. Conducting Community Health Needs Assessments (CHNAs) together to identify priority health needs and develop implementation strategies is one way for hospitals and city leaders to build a fruitful and ongoing partnership. Some hospitals already are collaborating with city leaders and other community partners. A few examples:
  • Baton Rouge, Louisiana Mayor Melvin L. “Kip” Holden, through his Healthy City Initiative, brought together area hospitals such as the Baton Rouge General Medical Center, Lane Regional Medical Center, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, the Surgical Specialty Center of Baton Rouge, and Woman’s Hospital to conduct a joint CHNA and implementation strategy, putting them on a course for greater collaboration to address systematic issues that influence health.
  • Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System municipal leaders and community partners took a holistic view of health in South Carolina and worked together to address all health indicators, including education, housing, access to healthy food, and economic stability. Together, they won the 2015 Robert Wood Johnson Culture of Health Prize in recognition of their progress in making changes that led to improvements in the health and well-being of local residents.
  • Vincent Hospital Frankfort in Indiana works with city and county leaders and community partners as part of the Healthy Communities of Clinton County Coalition. The coalition works to improve health through policy, system and environmental changes, complete streets and tobacco-free programs.
  • The D.C. Healthy Communities Collaborative is a local partnership among four District of Columbia hospitals (Children’s National Health System, Howard University Hospital, Providence Health System and Sibley Memorial Hospital), four Federally Qualified Health Centers (Unity Health Care Inc., Community of Hope, Mary’s Center and Bread for the City), and two ex-officio members (the D.C. Primary Care Association and the D.C. Hospital Association) that conducted a joint CHNA in the nation’s capital. In collaboration with the D.C. Department of Health, the collaborative is developing an implementation strategy to address the priority health needs in the District of Columbia.
  • Saint Thomas Health, Nashville, Tennessee, collaborates with Metro Nashville Public Schools to provide the Saint Thomas Health Scholars Program, a free program for selected high school seniors to promote health care careers through mentoring and training for the medical assistant certification exam.
  • Trinity Health, based in Livonia, Michigan, created the Transforming Communities Initiative that uses a wide variety of funding mechanisms for direct community health improvement in awarded locations.

Further examples of health systems working with city leaders to address affordable and healthy housing are: Bon Secours Baltimore Health System, Saint Agnes Healthcare in Baltimore, Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C.

Successful efforts in this arena start by developing key partnerships that include city officials. Here are a few tips for community health care organizers:

  • Share with your mayor/city leaders. Share your CHNA, implementation strategy and community benefit report with your mayor, councilmembers, local school superintendent, and health department director. Offer to provide key city officials with an overview of your CHNA process, community benefit programs, and the community support you provide.
  • Know your city’s plans and priorities. Become familiar with your city’s master plan, school wellness plan, and health department plan. Listen to your mayor’s State of the City address. Lincoln, Nebraska’s “Taking Charge” program is an example of a city using its budgeting process to improve community health and well-being. The program uses an outcomes-based budgeting and evaluation process that identified community priorities and set outcome goals.
  • Meet and discuss. Meet with city leaders to learn more about their efforts to improve health and well-being. Share and discuss how social determinants affect the health and well-being of your community. Consider using key resources like County Health Rankings & Roadmaps and Community Commons to map by ZIP codes the areas of greatest need. Highlight areas of focus that overlap and initiatives that complement city goals.
  • Assess together. Share information and assessment processes. Consider working towards one needs assessment for the city, and look for other ways you may be able to collaborate and leverage resources.
  • Align efforts to improve health and well-being. Build on each other’s strengths and expertise, and work together to address barriers to healthy lifestyle behaviors, health care and the social determinants of health. Look for ways your programs and efforts may support each other’s goals and initiatives.

Interested in learning more about social determinants of health? Click here to view a short video by Julie Trocchio, senior director, community benefit and continuing care, in CHA’s Washington, D.C. office.

About the authors:

nancy_lim_125x150Nancy Zuech Lim is a community health and benefit consultant with the National League of Cities on the Institute for Youth, Education and Families’ Early Childhood Success portfolio. She can be reached at lim@nlc.org.

 

sue_polis_125x150Sue Pechilio Polis is the Director of the Health and Wellness team in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education and Families. She can be reached at polis@nlc.org.

The Secret to a Healthier City: Sharing Data

To be effective and strategic in their decision-making, city leaders striving to build a culture of health need diverse, usable, high-quality data sources that are integrated, timely, relevant and geographically precise.

“In Cincinnati, partnerships, shared expertise, and data integration have helped us as we seek answers to complex problems. Indeed, I have come to learn that seeking consultation from a housing expert may prove just as valuable to my patients and families as would a consultation from a cardiologist or gastroenterologist.” - Dr. Andrew Beck, pediatrician at Cincinnati Children’s

“In Cincinnati, partnerships, shared expertise, and data integration have helped us as we seek answers to complex problems. Indeed, I have come to learn that seeking consultation from a housing expert may prove just as valuable to my patients and families as would a consultation from a cardiologist or gastroenterologist.” – Dr. Andrew Beck, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital

This post was co-authored by Peter Eckart, Alison Rein and Nick Wallace.

Data can be a powerful tool for understanding issues, making smarter decisions, and improving results – and city leaders can help build a culture of health by supporting the collection, access and use of data to establish programs and policies that improve both economic and population health through education, transportation, housing and other critical issues.

However, collecting and using data from multiple sources and sectors is challenging, and is often hampered by the organizational, cultural, and budgetary silos that pervade municipal government. Data collected by local hospitals, the department of health, and the Mayor’s office are not often shared with one another due to real or perceived legal restrictions, turf issues, and lack of capacity. While opening access to data and allowing it to be integrated with other data types and sources is not yet the norm for city leadership, a few cities have modeled the extraordinary benefits of such efforts.

Community Health Peer Learning Program (CHP) grantee, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, has embarked on an effort to identify “hot spots” where the incidence of disease, such as asthma, is especially high. Between 2009 and 2011, children from low-income areas in Hamilton County were 88 times more likely to be admitted into the hospital for emergency asthma treatment than children from high-income areas. Pinpointing the disparities at the neighborhood level has allowed the hospital to partner with the Cincinnati Health Department to more effectively link at-risk children to home inspectors that can help to identify the existence of potential health hazards. The hospital has also built a medical-legal partnership with the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati to pursue legal advocacy when dealing with noncompliant landlords. Thus, home hazards like lead, pests, and mold have been mitigated, new roofs have been installed on several buildings and new heating and air-conditioning units have been put in. The community also recently received a $29 million grant from HUD to accelerate the rehab in one at-risk neighborhood.

Dr. Andrew Beck, a pediatrician at Cincinnati Children’s, notes, “Hospitals and social service agencies, public and private, seek to promote health and wellness among those they serve. We seek the same goal, but we generally work separately. In Cincinnati, partnerships, shared expertise, and data integration have helped us as we seek answers to complex problems. Indeed, I have come to learn that seeking consultation from a housing expert may prove just as valuable to my patients and families as would a consultation from a cardiologist or gastroenterologist.”

The example from Cincinnati makes it clear that leaders should be intentional about nurturing and encouraging a culture of data sharing across various organizations and sectors. Building these sometimes difficult but necessary data sharing relationships is core to All In: Data for Community Health, a nationwide learning collaborative that aims to help communities build capacity to address the social determinants of health through multi-sector data sharing. The two founding partners of All In, Data Across Sectors for Health (DASH) and the CHP Program recently presented together on NLC’s Culture of Health Web Forum Series. The BUILD Health Challenge and the Colorado Health Foundation’s Connecting Communities and Care have also become partners in All In, which now collectively represents 50 local data sharing projects across the country.

Here are just a few lessons from the All In learning collaboration that may be useful to cities in the early stages of multi-sector data sharing:

  1. Relationships are critical to moving data integration forward: Sharing data is as much about relationships as it is about technology. Everything that we know about making collaborations work – developing a shared understanding of the problem, willingness to work together, building trust, communicating clearly, creating a shared governance – applies even more to data sharing partnerships.
  2. Effective data sharing is a considerable time investment, and requires laser-like focus on the problem statement: It can take several years to get people to the table, build meaningful relationships, learn how other sectors operate, and develop data sharing agreements. Creating an environment for data sharing that supports and sustains this commitment requires gaining buy-in from partners and key community stakeholders to ensure their dedication to the driving purpose and continued participation over the long haul.
  3. Data can be used both to identify and characterize city challenges, and to effectively target limited city resources: City officials often know they have an issue, but data are critical for determining scale and scope, and for understanding root causes. Similarly, once these challenges are better understood, interventions are often based on the knowledge that integrated data permits better targeting of city services (e.g., lead poisoning abatement, falls prevention, city planning), and more efficient use of scarce resources.

While there is no roadmap for this complex work of building multi-sector partnerships to share data, there are several resources available to city leaders who want to learn from others who have been down a similar path.

  • Thirty cities nationwide are engaged in the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP), a peer network of open data intermediaries. The NNIP shares lessons from local partners to help strengthen capacity for data-driven decision-making.
  • Github is an open source hub that contains many technical tools for sharing data that can be adapted by others.
  • What Works Cities is a national initiative designed to accelerate cities’ use of data and evidence to improve results for their residents.
  • DASH’s Environmental Scan provides a nationwide snapshot of the current state of multi-sector data sharing initiatives for community health. AcademyHealth will soon release a scan of the national program offices supporting these initiatives.
  • The All In Data for Community Health learning collaborative regularly shares news and resources to help guide and advance the field of multi-sector data sharing for health. Sign up for the monthly newsletter to get updates.

Not sure where to access data? Check out some useful data tools for cities, including Community Commons, County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, The National Equity Atlas, and the 500 Cities Project.

City leaders play a critical role in building lasting multi-sector partnerships that help unleash the full potential of local data. As city leaders innovate and experiment, it’s critical that they share their challenges and successes. If we are agile and open to learning from others, we can maximize data infrastructure investments to achieve greater collective impact.

About the authors:

peter_eckart_125x150Peter Eckart, M.A., is Co-Director of Data Across Sectors for Health at the Illinois Public Health Institute.

 

alison_rein_125x150Alison Rein, M.S., is Senior Director of the Community Health Peer Learning Program at AcademyHealth.

 

nick_wallace_125x150Nick Wallace is an Associate for Health and Wellness at NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.