The Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board (YCB) is working on a Minneapolis Children’s Report Card, probably to be issued by August 1. The Board has been around for 20 years but often worked in obscurity. The Report Card is the Board’s effort to refocus its work and take a higher profile role in advocating children’s policy. It will try to bring attention to the state of the city’s kids and improve civic efforts to make their lives better.
One out of every three Minneapolis children lives in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2006 estimates. The numbers vary widely by race. For instance, while only 7.7 percent of white children live in poverty, 60.5% of African American children do.
The board chose 14 indicators to track annually, things like childhood obesity, teen pregnancy, kindergarten readiness and graduation rates. (See sidebar.) They are organized under three broad categories: Safe and Supportive Environments, Healthy Development and Learning Readiness and Performance.
The data is not new. Bringing it together in one spot to focus attention at the city level is.
City Councilmember Elizabeth Glidden (8th Ward) chairs the YCB and said it has not been a visible organization. The Report Card is an effort to create something tangible to explain and promote its work.
“This will guide our work plan—and we want to be accountable for that,” Glidden said.
I am no neutral observer here. In 2007 former Minneapolis School Board member Denny Schapiro hired me to work on a yearlong project to research Minneapolis children’s policy. Our starting point was the YCB’s original 20-year plan, written in the late 1980s. It was called City’s Children 2007 (because it set out a vision for Minneapolis children in 2007).
Our research found a lot of well-intentioned initiatives and reports spanning two decades, but little in the way of sustained effort. In the mid-1990s, for instance, the YCB had a big push to work with the Search Institute and use its 40 developmental assets model as a sort of Report Card. That effort got little traction.
In 2007, I summarized my findings to the YCB, including a suggestion to have a children’s report card track key indicators. (It was more of a nudge to the YCB, which had the proposal on the drawing board since late 2004.)
The YCB is a potentially powerful group to coordinate children’s policy. Members include representatives from the city of Minneapolis, Hennepin County, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, the Minneapolis School Board, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office and the Juvenile Division of Hennepin County District Court. Ex-oficio members include representatives from the Minneapolis Foundation and the Greater Twin Cities United Way.
YCB executive director Ann DeGroot said the YCB needs to use the Report Card to understand the big picture, “and to influence adults to create a better environment for kids.”
The YCB plans to expand its efforts to create a coordinated children’s legislative agenda. It is considering drafting a Children’s Budget to take a clear look at the “comprehensive sweep” of how public agencies invest in children.
Weaknesses and strengths
YCB Co-chair and Minneapolis School Board member Pam Costain said the Report Card has some limitations. It focuses more on what’s wrong with kids (teen pregnancy) rather than what’s right (participation in out-of-school activities). The YCB needs to find better ways to measure what is working, she said.
Some Report Card information depends on Minneapolis Public School (MPS) data. Since many Minneapolis youth attend private schools, charters or schools in other districts, that data doesn’t provide a complete picture of all the city’s children.
But the Children’s Report Card is a start. It puts chronic school challenges in a broader community context. It helps focus multi-agency coordination. It will set annual and five-year targets for 2013.
The big challenge is whether the YCB has the leadership and institutional stability to sustain the effort through 2013.
Given the economy, there are big challenges.
Costain said she is worried about the extent of childhood poverty and how that affects everything from children’s health and education to housing stability. “We have a lot of really poor kids,” she said. “I guess we tolerate it in ways that, …if we actually looked at it, we might be less comfortable with.”
Scott Russell is a journalist. He wrote for the Southwest Journal and Skyway News (now the Downtown Journal) in Minneapolis from 1999-2005. He also wrote for The Capital Times, a Madison Wisconsin daily, from 1993-1999. Email: email@example.com
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