Adults Devote Serious Support to Youth Police Reformers

Policymakers and other adult-led initiatives that are serious about collaborating with youth movements and community-based coalitions must reckon with how full-time staff and organizations need to commit the resources to ensure ‘Youth Voices’ is not just a feel-good slogan. 

How do you actually hear youth? A growing number of organizations pay lip service to ‘youth voices’ but never get past mottos and one-off events. We are learning how organizations actually listen and respond to perspectives, grievances, and solutions of the rising generation. This article explores how adults are making certain that ‘youth voices’ are front and center in the raging debates about policing on the streets and in the schools.

Policing Youth

The two initiatives featured here illustrate the monetary and pro bono support that resulted in real outcomes.

RESOURCES RESULTS
» City provided over $500,000 to garner experiences and proposed remedies from youth of all backgrounds.» Proposals by youth became the top recommendation by the city-appointed task force on police reforms.
» Adult volunteers and graduate students contributed over 100 hours to complete a comprehensive student police-free schools.
» School Board recommended to the Education Commissioner and Governor to enact the student coalition school safety plan.

Central Youth Role: Police + School Security Policies

The city of Oakland, California established the Reimagining Public Safety Task Force responsible for reallocating 50% of the $150 million Police Department budget. The 17-members included youth members, Ivan Garcia and Losaline Moa. Together with two key adult allies, they advocated successfully for extra Task Force funding of  $532,200 for a “citywide youth leadership strategy that authentically partners youth to participate and engage with decision makers at the highest level.” 

IMPACT:  Surveys, listening sessions, the “Black Youth Thought Wall,” and other outreach required money and staff support (Reimagining Public Safety Final Report and Recommendations see pages 61-63). This structured ‘youth voice’ process had a decisive influence that is evident in the Task Force Tier One Recommendations (see page 12) that include reallocating money for alternatives to criminalization, mental health services, etc. The City Council voted unanimously but has yet to fully fund all these proposals.

In Rhode Island, several youth-led nonprofits have been relentless in their Counselors Not Cops campaigns. To get more traction, five of these organizations formed a coalition, boosted by crucial support from a cadre of researchers at Brown University and other allies including the Center for Justice.

Recently released is the Providence Alliance for Student Safety Plan. Their comprehensive proposal, enhanced by testimonials by students and educators, calls for the elimination of all school resource officers and maps out a $8million to $9million line-by-line budget for social workers, psychologists and other positions at each Providence high school

IMPACT: In response to this long-term advocacy, the Providence Board of Education recommended to the Governor and Education Commissioner to eliminate all school resource officers from the largest school system in Rhode Island. More student walkouts are expected to pressure the Governor who publicly opposes police-free schools. 


Real Reform No More Token Gestures

Both reports deserve a deep read but one fundamental shift is the Providence Alliance for School Safety explicitly rejects the typical role of students having the proverbial ‘Seat at the Table.’ Instead students, especially those impacted by the school-to-prison pipeline and under-represented, need to be deciding ‘What’s on the Menu.’  

We Deserve and Demand Student Voices at the Lead — We propose that the District vest control over student safety and accountability in a committee of Youth Advocates and community allies, selected by youth. This youth-led committee will have control over school safety–abolishing punitive disciplinary policies, defining the actions schools will take to address disciplinary issues without the intervention of police, and guiding the design and implementation of transformative justice policies.

Providence Alliance School Safety Plan

Milly Asherov, a rising senior who works at the Providence Student Union as the Leadership Co-Director, is still exhausted from the coalition’s weekly Zoom meetings. She recognizes one major success factor of this four-month marathon project is symbiosis. 

  • Students provided concrete insider knowledge that contrast the impact of campuses with school resource officers and those operating with school safety teams as well as trauma-trained mental health professionals. 
  • Graduate students devoted their research skills to scouring programs in other school districts, collecting stats, generating a budget with baseline salaries for counselors, restorative justice specialists, etc.
  • Adult allies dedicated over 100 pro bono hours compiling the information and intense writing with weekly Zoom meetings and ongoing consulting with students every step of the way.

“Youth were present in all interviews with partnerships that could contribute solutions to school safety and all decided by youth. The adults were always checking with us to make sure every section of the report reflected our voices and understood our role in this plan was not just to edit grammar in the report.”

Milly Asherov, Classical High School Class of 2022

Adults Are Allies + Accomplices

Adults in California who advocated for significant resources ensured the two youth members were not token representatives on the 17-member Reimagining Public Safety Task Force. Half a million dollars resulted in very substantive input from young people across the city that paid for facilitators, stipends for participants, and staff who worked the youth members in similar fashion to those city employees who assisted the 15 other Task Force members. 

In Rhode Island, the hours of research and writing required to generate the Providence Alliance for School Safety plan depended on the intense involvement of dedicated adults. The hardcore reality is even students with superb time management skills rarely have enough free hours or flexible schedules to take such a behemoth project with significant support.

Policymakers and other adult-led initiatives that are serious about collaborating with youth movements and community-based coalitions must reckon with how full-time staff and organizations need to commit the resources to ensure ‘Youth Voices’ is not just a feel-good slogan. 


Contact us to explore how your organization or agency make youth exclusion a relic of the past!

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An Intergenerational Career Pipeline

More agencies, including service providers, recognize the need to infuse young people with lived experience right smack in their leadership circle.

Solid commitments to intergenerational collaboration build a career pipeline to attract young people of color that serves as a model for other organizations. 

Maria Nuñez describes herself as defiant when she attended New Horizons in Pasco, Washington. School counselor Carolyn Cox’s Mindset Reset room is where any student could really blow off steam. Carolyn makes it clear that one’s Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) score does not define anyone. Maria was determined not to follow the traditional path of working in the fields or the factory. Carolyn’s SPARK program at this alternative school introduced this rebellious student to the hope of a career in behavioral health. 

While working 2 jobs, being pregnant, and going to school, Maria got her GED at 19 shortly after having her daughter. She completed the training and state exam to become a Certified Peer Counselor (CPC) which is a Medicaid reimbursable service. Soon she was gainfully employed and then advanced to a Youth and Parent Certified Peer Counselor Trainer. The next rung on her career ladder was to join the SPARK Development Team as the Contract Manager where she explains the range of responsibilities.

“We plan out our classes, run the program, manage funds and deliverables, present to the community and across the state about the SPARK program.”

Maria shatters stereotypes. Her doctor could not believe that “I had this job with my bald head and tattoos.” At age 21, she just got promoted to fill a new position as SPARK Project Director for the Washington Statewide Youth Leadership Network.

Maria continues to defy expectations. She is the first Latina youth appointed to the Governor’s Behavioral Health Advisory Council. More agencies, including service providers, recognize the need to infuse young people with lived experience right smack in their leadership circle.

Organizational Structures Mandate Youth Involvement

A legal settlement and subsequent legislation mandated substantive youth involvement. A lawsuit required the state of Washington to build a mental health system for Medicaid-eligible children and youth age 20 or younger with complex emotional, behavioral, and social issues. Included in the agreement is licensed behavioral health agencies pay CPCs for their mental health and substance abuse peer counseling with Medicaid funds. 

In addition to SPARK’s partnership with the Washington Health Care Authority to provide services along with workforce development, many CPCs participate in other policy making structures that explicitly rely on input from youth and young adults. 

  • Maria and others from SPARK are involved in Family Youth System Partner Round Tables (FYSPRT) that meet monthly to suggest improvements for treatment and services at the local and regional levels. 
  • Recent legislation added seats for two youth/young adults with lived experience to serve on a new subgroup, Youth and Young Adult Continuum of Care (YYACC), to prioritize issues identified by FYSPRT. 
  • Another example of intentional youth infusion is the WA Behavioral Health Advisory Council that requires 51 percent community members, which include young people, who identify gaps and priorities in the federal SAMSHA block grant.  

Back when Maria was in high school, she never imagined these ambitious roles and responsibilities. SPARK provides a home with a solid foundation of intergenerational interdependence.

Creating a Collegial Culture

It is apparent that Carolyn Cox, co-founder of SPARK, has an infectious spirit and terrific sense of humor along with her own history that she knows peer support could have made an enormous difference when she was young. 

Board member Ahney King describes the “aura” that Carolyn creates because young people know “she really lets them be themselves, lets them feel, and lets them speak.” The attitude at SPARK seems to truly embrace new and untried approaches. 

Carolyn regards Maria as “my right hand man” and Maria reciprocates, describing how they “bounce off” of each other. Ahney credits her continued learning to her interactions with young people: 

“Maria’s courage inspires me to speak out rather than stay quiet.”

The power of peer-to-peer influence is undeniable and there are plenty of reasons why adult-run organizations lose out if they are not partnering with young people as colleagues.  

  • RACIAL DIVERSITY. In the field of behavioral health–which is dominated by older white women–the outreach strategies by Maria and her peers result in attracting many people of color including young men to pursue CPC trainings, paid apprenticeships and higher education. 

  • REALITY CHECK. Another obvious reason for enlisting people who are similar in age to those receiving services is to get informed, uncensored input essential for effective monitoring and evaluation.
  • SYSTEMS CHANGE. A team of SPARK Certified Peer Counselors now are co-designing a new program to reach current and formerly incarcerated juveniles that will differentiate from services for adults exiting the corrections system. 

This model program demonstrates that it just makes sense for professionals to work with other trailblazers like Maria Nuñez. As Carolyn Cox sums up her core philosophy with typical ebullience.

“The youth that I get to see and learn from bring so much to the table.  We want to continue to grow our programs for our youth with our youth. We couldn’t do this without their input.”

Could your organization learn from SPARK to build a career pipeline to remedy the acute shortages not only in behavioral health but other sectors? 

Could your organization change its culture and structure to hire more young people who grow into leadership positions?

Contact us about our online workshops that are designed to help you and your team achieve these objectives and more!

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Infuse “Y” in DEI

WITH = New Word of the Year

Like a tiger ready to pounce, several dozen youth-run organizations are demanding the Biden-Harris administration ditch tokenistic efforts of the past and build deep relationships WITH the rising generations–precisely what we call Youth Infusion.

Like a tiger ready to pounce, several dozen youth-run organizations are demanding the Biden-Harris administration ditch tokenistic efforts of the past and build deep relationships WITH the rising generations precisely what we call Youth Infusion. 

The YouthinGov proposal outlines succinctly: 

The Problem: “The systemic lack of sustained, youth-specific roles and Young Americans across the federal government limits young people’s agency…It was found that the consistency of youth-inclusive programming across departments has been largely dependent upon individuals and subject to turnover.”  

The Solution: “Young Americans are important stakeholders for every issue —and the need for formalized youth engagement work across agencies is pivotal to ensure the authentic engagement and advancement of the nation’s youngest constituency.”

Specific demands include the appointment of a Director of Youth Engagement, preferably a member of Generation Z, to oversee the Office for Young Americans and also sit on the Domestic Policy Council and engage with the National Security Council. 

This detailed blueprint is buttressed by a complementary proposal seeking institutional partnership WITH the U.S. Department of Education authored by the national nonprofit, Student Voice.  (Watch powerful 2/8/21 press conference.)

We really recommend reading these two carefully constructed and comprehensive documents. WITH needs to replace doing “to” and “for” citizens, constituents, clients, consumers, etc.  

Never has the preposition WITH been emphasized both by young people as well as elder statesmen like David Mathews, who served as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare in the 1970s. He knows the individual and institutional dilemmas of bureaucrats collaborating with ordinary citizens but believes in “essential symbiosis.” In WITH the People, Mathews does not focus on any age group but he zeroes in on relationships which certainly are crucial when working WITH young people.

“And opening doors may have more to do with the character of relationships between citizens and institutions and the spirit in which collaboration occurs than it does with changes in organizational structure.”

Unlike efforts in prior administrations, these #YouthinGov represent a more diverse constituency, have experience dealing WITH bureaucrats, and can sniff out fake youth engagement. Will the White House and federal agencies respond to this call to embed young people throughout government?

This is why we believe…

A new operating system is necessary–especially when collaborating WITH minors. Even the involvement of young adults will demand a seismic shift in the minds of policy experts and other professionals.

Note: We want to share this comment we received by David Mathews, author of WITH the People and President & CEO of the Kettering Foundation: I am pleased to see that you’ve chosen WITH as your word of the year. The strategy of government working with the people—young people in this case—is important, not because it’s a nice thing to do, but because young people can do and make things that will allow government to do its work more effectively. When young people join forces to work together, they generate power. And that kind of power isn’t power over, it’s power with.

Our Youth Infusion workshop covers all aspects of achieving WITH. We hope you will contact us about our professional development training and consulting for government agencies and non-governmental organizations.

Lower Voting Age to 16

Extending suffrage to minors will signal a major shift in how local elected officials pay attention to demands and dreams of “kids.”

A broad community coalition in San Francisco had the audacity to try again to extend voting rights to minors. The Vote16 ballot measure in the 16th largest US city, earned more than 205,000 votes but finished at 49.2%, just short of the 50% threshold needed to pass. This Charter Amendment won 30,000 more total votes and a higher percentage than the first try in 2016.

The shift is coming in how local elected officials pay attention to demands and dreams of “kids.” What does it say the the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and Board of Education members agreed unanimously to put this measure on the ballot? I still am as optimistic about Vote16 campaigns across the country and abroad since my TEDTalk. The testimony by two San Francisco teens still sticks with me: 

As a child of an incarcerated adult, my dad doesn’t have the right to vote…I would love to vote on issues that affect my family.

I’m art of the one-third of SF immigrant community, I’m the only one in my household who can have a potential vote.

In neighboring Oakland, a ballot measure to extend voting rights to 16- and 17-years olds for all Board of Education candidates won by a whopping 67 percent. As this coalition website exclaims:

Thanks to the amazing leadership of students across Oakland, youth have won the right to vote in School Board elections!! Thank you to all of you who supported the young people’s movement to center youth power and strengthen democracy!

Extending suffrage to minors will have a ripple effect. Not only will elected officials have reason to listen and respond to this new constituency, but this new found respect will spill over to community leaders, government agencies, etc. which will set in motion more acceptance of youth infusion. Neuroscientific research confirms brain circuitry necessary for cold cognition is mature by mid-adolescence and 16-year-olds are just as capable as adults at “making informed and reasonable political decisions.” 

Similar Vote16 campaigns are underway across the cities across the country.

If you have the opportunity to vote for a similar proposal where you live, please share whether you would vote yea or nay!

Student Election Poll Workers

More than half the states have lowered the age to 16 for poll workers. Opening up these paid positions certainly signals an attitudinal shift.

November 3, 2020 is guaranteed to be a historic election. COVID has thrown a wrench into the entire system of voting. Even prior to the pandemic, election officials foresaw a crisis. Staffing polling sites has been increasingly difficult and now an estimated 250K workers are needed. The shortage is predictable with 60% who are 61 or older. One solution gaining traction is to widen the pipeline by relying on those not yet old enough to vote. 

More than half the states–34–have lowered the age to 16 for poll workers. Opening up these paid positions certainly signals an attitudinal shift. Teens can be trusted for this serious work as election judges. Most states pay minimum wage to cover hours spent for both prior training and election day. Bottom line: demographics demand it. 

It is not only the graying of America that necessitates engaging high school students but their digital skills fill a real need at polling stations. This trend is an example of multigenerational collaboration but if state and county board of election officials applied our Youth Infusion process, this opportunity to participate in our democracy could be dramatically different by intentionally engaging the most marginalized and underrepresented. 

NOW IMAGINE REAL YOUTH INPUT

Let’s imagine how a group of young consultants could have contributed if they had been involved at the very start in weighing numerous decisions that could result in a broader pool of student poll workers who could have this rare civic leadership experience. A few hypothetical examples: 

  1. Eligibility requirements range from 2.5 GPA, 3.0 in other states, to “exemplary academic standing.” Would these grades deny too many deserving students this opportunity?
  2. High School Poll Worker recruitment flyer details about time commitment and compensation. Would youth emphasize other information and pick other photos?
  3. Application questions like Utah’s include “Are you comfortable working with electronic equipment and entering voter information on a tablet/computer?” Would they reword this requirement?

In this case, young people can be enlisted to flag and circumvent potential barriers that could prevent their peers from applying, for example, having to print out the document and have postage stamps. In addition to inside knowledge of Generation Z, collaborating with a cohort of teens begins to pull down the wall of age segregation. We envision structural organizational change where boards of elections would intentionally recruit young people to expand those involved on the frontlines not only on Nov 3rd but every election day.

What’s your reaction about this trend of trusting teens with this responsibility? We are eager to hear your opinion!