This article is the second in a new monthly series featuring ways in which mayors are working to meet the bold, measurable goals and specific local targets set for the Mayors' Action Challenge for Children and Families. Launched in November 2008 and joined by more than 100 mayors, the challenge seeks to highlight and promote municipal leadership and innovation in enhancing child and family well-being.
At a public event held at Denver City Hall last Tuesday, Mayor John Hickenlooper and Councilmember-at-Large Doug Linkhart formally announced "Denver's Youth Agenda: Advancing the Mayor's Action Challenge."
The agenda builds upon more than a year of work dating back to December 2008, when Hickenlooper convened city agencies, elected officials, community organizations and leaders of the education, juvenile justice, health and mental health systems to begin a conversation on how to better meet the needs of Denver's youth and families.
A steering committee facilitated by the Mayor's Office for Education and Children (MOEC) and the Office for Economic Development met monthly throughout last year to develop a coordinated agenda for supporting youth in their adolescent years. Discussions followed a framework provided by NLC's Institute for Youth, Education, and Families of creating a vision statement, engaging stakeholders, developing broad strategies, coordinating infrastructure and sharing accountability for outcomes.
"Creating a coordinated plan for youth is not the culmination of the work, but the starting point of Denver's unified efforts to improve the health, education and safety of our youth," said Hickenlooper.
The data-driven youth agenda aligns with the Mayors' Action Challenge for Children and Families; Hickenlooper was one of 26 founders when the initiative was launched in November 2008. With the initiative, challenge mayors establish measurable goals to ensure that every child has 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. Denver's Youth Agenda focuses on specific local goals in health, safety and education.
The agenda includes the following targeted outcomes:
The agenda connects 18 system-wide initiatives to address specific youth-related issues. For instance, MOEC and numerous community partners collaborate with Denver Public Schools to build a citywide community schools model, expand quality school-based afterschool programs and improve coordination of services. Beginning with the city's six highest need regions, a Community Schools Planning Group is taking a phased approach in developing school-based neighborhood "hubs" to provide health clinics and other services, with two "satellite" schools in each region providing additional services, programs and referrals to the hubs.
Through the Denver Collaborative Partnership, the city's Department of Human Services works with juvenile courts and probation and Denver Public Schools to identify effective truancy and delinquency interventions. Denver also has partnerships focused on youth mentoring and youth who are in or aging out of foster care that engage Mile High United Way and multiple community groups. The Gang Reduction Initiative of Denver works in target neighborhoods to reduce violent gang crime and recidivism and increase interagency collaboration capacity.
"Every day, we face peers struggling with drinking, using drugs, joining gangs and dropping out of school," according to members of the Mayor's Youth Commission. "A citywide youth agenda that focuses on these issues would help programs work together."
Leadership Beyond Youth Agenda
Outside of the youth agenda's framework, the city is taking important steps to tackle the fourth challenge area: ensuring that every child has a financially fit family in which to thrive.
For instance, Denver is one of eight cities that participated in the second phase of NLC's Bank On Cities campaign. Through Bank On Denver, the city seeks to connect unbanked and underbanked residents with low-cost mainstream financial services and asset-building opportunities. Denver's Road Home initiative has helped reduce chronic homelessness by 36 percent and provides homeless youth with centralized access to youth-only shelters, health care, job opportunities and coordinated case management.
Under Hickenlooper's leadership, the city has also developed numerous innovative strategies for improving outcomes for children and youth, as described in NLC's October 2009 report "The State of City Leadership for Children and Families." The Denver 5 by 5 Project offers low-income families with young children free year-round family admission at 12 local cultural venues.
The project aims to provide all children with at least five cultural experiences by the age of 5 to promote early learning and connect parents to local educational resources. For older youth, the city established the Denver Scholarship Foundation, which leverages funds from the business community to provide Denver Public Schools students with need-based aid of up to $5,000 per year to attend one of 39 colleges in Colorado.
Next Steps for the City
Going forward, the city will identify a governance body to advance the youth agenda, will connect multiple stakeholders and community members to the agenda, will identify and track indicators that lead to the agenda's outcomes and will determine multiple strategies for achieving those outcomes.
"The next step is to rally the community to embrace an agenda that puts kids first," said Linkhart. "By focusing the energy of nonprofits, the business community, the faith community, parents and youth themselves, we can make a real difference in the health, education and safety of our young people."
Details: To read the full Denver Youth Agenda, visit www.denvergov.org/portals/70/documents/Denver's Youth Agenda.pdf. To learn more about the Mayors' Action Challenge for Children and Families, visit www.mayorsforkids.org or contact Michael Karpman at (202) 626-3072 or firstname.lastname@example.org.