Reflections on Children and Youth Issues Briefing
Undeniably, those in attendance at the 2012 Children and Youth Issues Briefing on January 11th were among many of the most significant scholars, nonprofit leaders, and policy-makers aiming to improve the future for the youngest generation of Minnesotans. Aside from those with the power to make systematic changes, many nonprofit employees attended to be part of the conversation. Although important developments were discussed, I left the event wishing for more unity in next steps and clarity in vision for our state’s next few years. I left hoping that most of what was discussed was not in fact new information for many already working in youth and education fields. Frankly, I left wanting more.
News about recent funding for North Minneapolis’ Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ), St. Paul’s Promise Neighborhood, and the recent developments to replicate Ohio’s STRIVE in Minnesota were informative, but by no means should have been news to any of us. As slides describing youth health disparities, poverty levels, and Minnesota’s achievement gap were shown, I was surprised that the data drew gasps and murmurs from the tables around me. If you consume local news media or stay up-to-date on education/youth related organizations in this area, this stuff is hard to ignore. But maybe that’s the problem. Are we as well-informed about our peers working in youth-serving organizations as we should be?
In an effort to break down silos in state government, the Minnesota Commissioners of Education, Human Services, and Health (aka “The Children’s Cabinet”) have gathered to tackle, comprehensively, the issues that affect Minnesota’s underserved youth (including poverty, violence, health problems, parental health, nutrition, academic inequities, etc.). I still, however, find myself wondering how much actual time is devoted to this day-to-day. As the duplication of services continues to be alarmingly excessive in nonprofits, are similar discussions happening at the executive level in our nonprofits? Does the promise of our nonprofit community’s collective impact by working together (even if it means as coworkers, sharing an office) outshine the potential loss of nonprofit jobs, funding, and power that many of us associate with mergers and acquisitions? If so, we might be in the wrong line of work.
At NYLC we believe that engaging young people in solving issues not only can lead to the best outcomes, but also inspires and rewards leadership. We imagine young people being active parts of solutions, so the lack of youth at the event itself was disappointing. Do youth or children advise the Children’s Cabinet? How do youth have input into the planning of new nonprofit models aimed at improving their own situations? Sometimes our ideas get in the way of our methods. Going forward, I hope that we continue to show trust in our youth by giving them the active leadership roles in reforming our systems that they deserve.