American youth currently face challenging realities along their way to adulthood. From having fewer hours of contact with caring adults to facing a future of uncertain job security in a brutal economy, the factors influencing youth's quality of life and future potential are dramatically more complex and challenging than they were in the past. With parents working longer hours and the absence of grandparents and other community adults who used to make up support systems, the intergenerational fabric of community has been frayed. Youth development strategies aim to reweave community fabric in a new way - one that takes the supports and opportunities young people should have, and re-institutes them in the context of young people's realities today. While many of these realities are harsh ones, we know that young people themselves want to be involved in their communities. The importance of building positive youth/adult partnerships in this process cannot be stressed enough.
Guided by core principles and specific goals, the Center's Youth Development Mobilization (YDM) consists of a variety of strategies the Center will implement, both independently and in partnerships, to build youth development infrastructures locally and nationally. YDM will begin in three localities and stretch over ten years.
The mobilization effort is based on influencing three critical elements: information, attitudes, involvement. The transformation of each of these areas, both in the public and private domains, is a necessary condition for change. For example, in the area of information, the country is currently focused on collecting primarily negative youth information, e.g., teenage births, dropouts, and juvenile arrest rate. Inspiring a 180 degree shift, the YDM intends to collect information such as: average number of hours youth participate in after-school activities, computer to youth ratio in non-school hours, and the percentage of youth who hold part-time jobs. The three elements are intertwined, for how information is gathered and communicated impacts attitudes as well as how and if people choose to become involved .
Only through broad community commitment, strong public will, and diverse partnerships can youth development take root, go to scale, and be sustained over time. YDM is a long-term investment that requires harnessing energy and resources across sectors in a community. Ultimately, the mobilization must be supported by partnerships among all of the systems in a community that affect young people (i.e., education, corporations, health care, juvenile justice, religious groups, and recreation). To build these relationships and establish youth development infrastructures to improve developmental paths of adolescents will take at least 10 years.
Finally, YDM, in the long-run, will not be a revenue neutral undertaking. Localities currently spending their resources on efforts to "fix youth" will need to pool, redirect, and increase their financial commitment to youth development. These additional dollars will ensure all youth equal access to supports and opportunities, especially youth living in economically distressed areas.
HOW MUCH DO YOU KNOW ABOUT THE YOUTH RESOURCES AVAILABLE IN YOUR COMMUNITY?
For most Americans, the answer is "not very much." The truth is, that we know a lot more about the cans of soup that we buy than we do about the services our young people need and use. With the soup, and virtually everything else that we buy, labels and computerized data systems give us a full listing of all contents and nutritional values in a standardized form.
Unfortunately, our information on the services young people need, and use, is still hit or miss. Communities do not know what they have or what they need. They usually have no way to tell how well services are being used and what services need to be improved.
Why it is Important
Good information is important for youth services for exactly the same reasons it is important for everything else. Accurate, accessible standarized information lets people find the services they need and use them effectively. It lets communities manage, evaluate and improve their services and determine the need for changing them, eliminating them, or developing new ones.
This Technology is Already in Your Neighborhood
It is not only at the university computer center, it is also at your drugstore. Your purchase of something like a pack of Lifesavers baseline information for you, the store and market researchers. Every time you make a simple purchase you generate up to 16 fields of information about that transaction. All of this technology could be and should be put to broader community use.
Communities Need to Start Using it
The Center for Youth Development and Policy Research (the Center) wants to use computer technology to help communities fill the current information gap on youth services. We have developed four key community strategies: Community YouthMapping; New Youth Indicators; YouthBudget; and Access and Dissemination in which the tremendous capacity of computerized information systems is used to mobilize and energize services to young people. These strategies are designed to open up the world of youth development through the power of information. They invite young people to get directly involved in creating solutions for community problems and they provide an opportunity for the entire community to take a realistic and balanced look at both the potential and the needs of the next generation.
Community YouthMapping is a community-based strategy that is key to the Center's overall Youth Development Mobilization. The mapping process itself invovles young people identifying and documenting information about resources in their communities. Working in teams, they canvass neighborhoods, block by block, identifying places to go and things to do, as well as an array of services and resources for them and their families. Like local ethnographers, YouthMappers conduct interviews to compile detailed information about each resource they identify.
As of January 1998 twenty two communities completed or were in the process of completing Community YouthMapping. The Center is currently exploring the possibility of developing a core curriculum for Community YouthMapping to be implemented through both schools and community-based organizations.
Community YouthMapping Technology
The Academy for Educational Development is supporting the Center's effort to create a Geographic Information System based software application that will organize data collected through Community YouthMapping. Currently referred to as CYMApp (pronounced "sigh map"), this application will allow localities to access information regarding services and resources for youth and families in their communities. It will operate in a Windows '95 environment and have a user-friendly interface that an average 10 year old with limited computer knowledge can use to locate after school tutoring or the nearest recreation center.
Using Maptitude 4.0 by Caliper as its platform, the software application will be a template upon which community information can be seamlessly integrated to provide a customized computerized information application. This application can then be adopted and utilized at multiple sites in a locality.
NEW YOUTH INDICATORS
Many national efforts to measure outcomes presently use deficit-driven indicators to assess young people's condition in society, such as teen pregnancy rates, juvenile crime numbres, and percentages of high school dropouts. Although the Center believes these measures are important, they do not tell the whole story about young people's experiences. Measures that reflect positive conditions and experiences of young people are also important. The Center is therefore in the process of identifying possible complementary youth indicators that communities can begin to track. Below is a sample of such proposed indicators, juxtaposed with established indicators:
Budgeting and funding decisions are two of the most revealing indicators of a community's priorities. YouthBudget is a strategy that examines and documents how resources are allocated to serve young people in a community. This includes the type of activity or service funded (development, prevention, intervention, rehabilitation, and incarceration) who provides the funding (public sector, corporate, nonprofit or foundations), and the number and ages of youth served. To the right is a sample of three YouthBudget questions about three community resources. Such inquiries into public expenditures related to young people are a critical first step for communities to determine the kind of budget information they need to collect. As more in-depth information is compiled a community can begin to assess their current levels of investment and devise plans for future spending.
ACCESS AND DISSEMINATION
Internet YouthLink, YouthStations and Local YouthLines are examples of information access and dissemination strategies:
The Center has initiated a Youth Development Mobilization (YDM), which consists
of interconnected strategies to build and strengthen youth development
infrastructures locally and nationally. Integral to this process is the
Center's commitment to influence three inter-related forces —
. The Center belives that new youth development information, including
baseline data, will be the catalyst for transforming all three.
Working with communities throughout the country, the Center is in the process
of designing and implementing YDM strategies that can be brought to scale and
sustained. In doing so, one of the Center's goals is to support and strengthen
public/private partnerships that can ensure community-wide investment and
involvement in building an expanded information base and infrastructure for
Working with communities throughout the country, the Center is in the process of designing and implementing YDM strategies that can be brought to scale and sustained. In doing so, one of the Center's goals is to support and strengthen public/private partnerships that can ensure community-wide investment and involvement in building an expanded information base and infrastructure for youth development.