It’s easy enough to trot out the clichés about pulling together on behalf of vulnerable children, they are our future, and so on.
Each time, though, the cliché obscures a fundamental truth in the new world that has evolved in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans: We remain a city that is poorer on average, more of our children lack the advantages that economically stable families can bring, and society’s big goals like “workforce planning” have to be concerned with today’s youth in much earlier grades.
The future is nearer than we think. That means children deserve the education and upbringing that will make them productive in society.
That is why we welcome the YouthShift coalition of nonprofits and government agencies working with children throughout the greater New Orleans region. It has grown organically, out of three years of discussions by nonprofit leaders who — not surprisingly, given the level of needs — feared that children were slipping through the organizational cracks, or not receiving services that would help their paths forward.
“The needs of New Orleans children and families grow every day,” said Jennifer Roberts, vice president of education for Baptist Community Ministries, a foundation funder for the project. She is a member of the YouthShift steering committee.
“In order to best serve our youth and create opportunities for them to be successful, we have to come together with a common vision among the organizations committed to this work,” Roberts said.
That is of course easier said than done.
Few can know better about the challenges of young people than those on the front lines, but it will help them to pull together data on the problems of children across the city and region. The YouthShift movement is in part based on insights from The Data Center’s new Youth Index, a statistical snapshot of the wellbeing of New Orleans children and young adults.
That data can inform with statistics the development of goals and strategies that can improve outcomes for the youngest to age 24. The full report is available at http://www.nolayouthshift.org.
YouthShift’s participants plan to use the Youth Index to benchmark progress each year.
We hope that the YouthShift movement succeeds in its goal of improving child services, of course, but on the way to that progress it can provide a sense of common purpose for the practictioners, from teachers to librarians to social workers to police, who can all too easily feel overwhelmed sometimes by the magnitude of their tasks.
We hope YouthShift helps.