Mayors Institute on Children and Families

The Mayors' Institute on Children and Families offers a new model of practical advice and customized assistance to individual mayors who are serving as champions for the needs of children, youth and families in their communities.

In Dec. 2009 and April 2010, NLC sponsored two pilot sessions of the new Mayors' Institute in partnership with Chapin Hall, a policy and research center at the University of Chicago, and the Seattle-based Institute for Community Change led by former Seattle Mayor Charles Royer. The Atlantic Philanthropies supported the development of the Mayors' Institute model, and the William T. Grant Foundation provided support for the second pilot session.

At each session, which were held in Chicago, mayors from two to three cities bring teams of senior municipal staff and key community leaders to present a carefully prepared case statement on a local problem or challenge. These cases, developed with the input of mayoral staff and partner institutions in the targeted cities and distributed prior to each session, include a concise overview of the problem, political challenges, issues of governance, funding, and constraints and opportunities.

After each mayor presents his or her city's case statement, the other mayors and city teams, along with a distinguished group of national experts, practitioners and academics, participate in a rich discussion of potential solutions.

The pilot sessions were modeled on the Mayors' Institute on City Design (MICD), a partnership program of the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Architectural Foundation and the U.S. Conference of Mayors that has helped prepare more than 800 mayors to be the chief urban designers of their cities over the past two decades.

As the driving force behind the MICD's development, Charleston, S.C., Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr., the 2008 Chair of NLC's Council on Youth, Education and Families, advised the YEF Institute on establishing a similar model of assistance to help mayors take action in promoting child and family well-being.

Pilot Sessions

Topics for the first two demonstration sessions in Chicago were drawn from the goals established by the Mayors' Action Challenge for Children and Families, a national initiative launched by 26 mayors to promote city leadership and innovation on behalf of children and families. More than 100 mayors have joined the Challenge since it was unveiled at NLC's November 2008 Congress of Cities in Orlando, Fla.

The Challenge calls on mayors to set at least one bold, measurable, locally-defined goal or target in each of the following areas to ensure that every child has, at a minimum:

  • Opportunities to learn and grow;
  • A safe neighborhood to call home;
  • A healthy lifestyle and environment; and
  • A financially fit family in which to thrive.

Topics for both of the initial pilot sessions were organized around the first goal of the Mayors' Action Challenge for Children and Families of ensuring that every child has "opportunities to learn and grow." Each of the mayors participating in the sessions view students' educational success as a fundamental factor in their communities' economic competitiveness.

Former Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay traveled with city teams to participate in the first session, which focused on supporting the school readiness of young children and sharing local data to more effectively monitor and improve educational outcomes for children and youth. Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley welcomed participants to his city during a reception held on the first evening of this initial two-day session.

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman brought stakeholder teams to Chicago the second pilot session of the Mayors' Institute, which focused on strategies for expanding access to high-quality out-of-school time learning opportunities. Mayor Dean is tackling this challenge through the new Nashville After Zone Alliance (NAZA), a partnership with the school district, local agencies and youth-serving organizations built on the Providence (R.I.) After School Alliance's (PASA) "AfterZones" model.

In St. Paul, Mayor Coleman, the 2010 Chair of NLC's Council on Youth, Education and Families, is also working to link in-school and out-of-school learning at geographic "learning campuses" modeled on the efforts of Providence and Nashville. In San Antonio, Mayor Castro intends to use his city's After School Challenge initiative to provide a rich array of learning experiences and put more young people on the path to higher education. Mayor Castro has set a goal of increasing college enrollment in San Antonio by one-third over the next five years.

Through its partnership with Chapin Hall, the YEF Institute ensured that some of the best minds in academia and leading practitioners in the country were at the table for an unusually rich and in-depth series of problem-solving discussions at both sessions. For instance, at the second session, mayors had the opportunity to gain feedback on their case statements from top experts representing the U.S. Department of Education, the City of Chicago, the Providence After School Alliance, Mathematica Policy Research, The After-School Corporation (TASC), Princeton University and the Erikson Institute.

Value of the Mayors' Institute Model

For the typical municipal leader, the chance to join a group of national experts for an in-depth problem-solving discussion - one focused specifically on a pressing challenge in his or her community - does not come along very often. With the launch of the Mayors' Institute model, however, many more mayors may have that opportunity in the months and years to come.

As demonstrated in a recently published YEF Institute report on The State of City Leadership for Children and Families, mayors are increasingly involved in improving outcomes for their cities' children and families in education, health, safety and financial well-being. Moreover, they are turning their cities into the nation's "learning laboratories" by developing innovative approaches that can inform the efforts of other communities as well as state and federal policies.

Since its inception in January 2000, the YEF Institute has been working to stimulate city innovation, providing site-level technical assistance to more than 140 cities across the nation and serving as the premier source of information and practical advice on municipal strategies for meeting the needs of children, youth, and families. In the course of that work, it has become clear that the full understanding of and participation in an issue by a city's mayor is perhaps the most critical factor in sustaining city-level progress.

Going forward, the YEF Institute, in addition to providing Mayors' Institute participants with ongoing technical assistance and follow up, plans to collect stories and best practices for publication and dissemination, and help cities measure progress and outcomes. The Institute and its partners are also exploring the feasibility of replicating the model throughout the country to accelerate the pace of city innovation.