Cities are increasingly developing the “infrastructure” needed to make lasting improvements in child and family well-being. Key strategies for building this capacity include establishing commissions, departments and coordinating entities that can sustain multi-sector collaborations; creating comprehensive youth master plans; using data more effectively; developing sustainable funding strategies; and implementing innovative placed-based initiatives in distressed neighborhoods.
Data-driven approaches help city leaders understand local needs, identify gaps in services, evaluate programs, allocate limited resources, and target effective interventions toward individual children and families. However, data on children and families who interact with multiple public systems are usually collected and stored separately within individual agencies. Cross-system approaches encounter multiple obstacles to sharing these data, including privacy laws, concerns about misuse of data, separate data collection and analysis processes and technological challenges. High-level leadership and strong interagency partnerships are needed to overcome these hurdles.
Young people and their families frequently interface with numerous local agencies within and outside of city government. Many cities have created a mayor’s office or department that provides strategic direction and coordination for the range of services available through the city or its partners. These offices play important convening roles, analyze progress in improving outcomes for children and families; expand awareness of and access to services; strengthen service providers' capacity; develop family-friendly policies; and leverage private, state and federal funding.
All cities grapple with the question of how to pay for services that strengthen families and expand opportunities for young people, a challenge exacerbated by the economic downturn. With the competing demands made upon fluctuating general fund revenues, several cities have developed separate funding sources dedicated to services for children, youth and families, including “children’s funds” comprising a portion of city revenue; dedicated taxes and special tax districts; developer impact fees; and community trust funds that can leverage private donations.
By concentrating city investment in a targeted neighborhood, city officials can reach their community’s most vulnerable residents while developing promising approaches that can be brought to citywide scale. Cities across the nation have developed innovative neighborhood-based strategies, including Promise Neighborhood initiatives to build a seamless cradle-through-college-to-career pipeline of services and educational programs for young people in high-poverty neighborhoods; neighborhood-based systems of high-quality afterschool programs; and targeting resources toward crime "hot spots."
More than 30 cities have created comprehensive youth master plans that coordinate services provided by multiple stakeholders. These plans allow city officials, school leaders, community partners and youth to take stock of local programs and services for young people, identify cost savings, reduce duplication of services, and strategically address pressing needs.