Hundreds of New Orleans organizations that serve children and young adults work in isolation from one another, which limits their effectiveness. That’s a troubling finding in a city where the percentage of young people in poverty exceeds the state average.
That is the conclusion of a group of nonprofit leaders who on Tuesday outlined the problem and a citywide plan to solve it.
The group, dubbed Youth Shift, is funded by the local philanthropic giant Baptist Community Ministries, JP Morgan Chase, the GPOA Foundation, the Greater New Orleans Foundation and the Institute of Mental Hygiene.
It spent three years gathering data from more than 190 agencies that work with young people, including their perceptions on how well the city’s children are being served, whether the agencies have enough staff and money, and whether their missions and functions align with six priorities — health and well being, economic stability, learning, physical environment, safety and engagement.
Then it asked the Data Center, a nonprofit research organization, to compile statistics on young people 25 and younger and create an index that would allow certain goals to be measured over time.
The result was the plan, which lists six recommendations that can be applied to more than 400 New Orleans agencies working with children.
At the top of the list, the group said, is that children-focused organizations should make more of an effort to work together.
“Everybody is trying really hard, but sometimes we are not working really smart,” said Marti Dumas, a Youth Shift steering committee member and parent.
The plan also recommends that organizations include parents, children, faith-based organizations and others in decision-making; compile information in one place about what kids programs exist in the city; participate in a Baptist Community Ministries-funded study on program quality; and discuss the feasibility of a new citywide tax millage to support youth programs based on best practices in other cities.
A separate organization should help train individuals and agencies that work with children, the plan suggests. Youth Shift has also pledged to find money to help groups implement the goals.
Such citywide plans are becoming commonplace around the country, said Jennifer Roberts, vice president of education grants for Baptist Community Ministries. Traditionally, however, they are led by the mayor or a specific institution.
“What happens is that those individuals move on, and then (the plan) goes to sitting on shelves,” Roberts said. Because this plan is organization-driven, it has potential staying power, she said.
Further, it has become increasingly important for the groups that serve New Orleans children to prove their effectiveness as national investments in local agencies begin to dry up, she said.
“The nonprofits have to be really impactful,” she said.
Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.