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Ready Thoughts: August 2010

In this issue, we lead with a new analysis, by the Forum for Youth Investment, of several newly released reports on child well-being. The paper outlines how tools such as the Ready by 21 Developmental Dashboard can help leaders be effective. The paper includes commentary on well-being report cards can measure results across outcome areas and ages. It also calls for robust indicators that measure the performance of systems and services.

Gathering comprehensive information and utilizing it to plan and measure progress is one way that leaders can use better data to ensure better outcomes for young people.

READY Thoughts

Recommended Reading for Leaders Committed to Changing the Way they Do Business


The Ready by 21 Partnership is committed to ensuring that all young people are ready for college, work and life. Attaining this goal requires coordinated supports from all sectors – education, business, government, nonprofits and the community – as well as from families. These supports not only improve students flow through the education pipeline from pre-K through post-secondary completion, they insulate the pipeline with basic services and broader opportunities for learning and development.

Each issue of READY PICKS focuses on one or more of “the 4 Bs” – the capacities leaders need to strengthen to do business differently and offers our best picks of research, tools and examples selected from the work of Ready by 21 Partners, Ready by 21 places and others committed to big picture change.

In this issue, we lead with important a new analysis of several newly released reports on child well-being. The paper outlines how tools such as the Ready by 21 Developmental Dashboard can help leaders be effective. The analysis also includes commentary on how these report cards can measure well-being across outcome areas and ages. It also calls for robust indicators that measure the performance of systems and services.


In 1998, Karen Pittman wrote a review of the first official federal inter-agency compilation of child and youth well-being indicators, America’s Children in Brief. She gave the report a barely passing grade – she wanted and expected more.

With the release of several child well-being data this summer, the Forum decided to revisit the topic. In Tracking Child & Youth Well-Being, we reviewed two reports that use traditional publicly available indices: America’s Children in Brief and 2010 Child Well-Being Index. We also reviewed two student surveys: Teen Voice 2010 by Search Institute and Youth Readiness for the Future (Gallup Student Poll).

The paper opens with an explanation of how a Ready by 21 Developmental Dashboard can used to analyze the balance of indicators. The logic behind the dashboard is simple: young people need consistent supports across their developmental years and across a range of outcome areas. The Ready by 21 Developmental Dashboard Indicators Analysis, which is described in the paper, is based on Karen’s decades of work with state and local leaders. The analysis consists of three simple but important steps: 1) identify gaps, 2) ensure a balance of positive and negative indicators, and 3) distinguish between indicators of youth well-being with measures of systems and services.

Applying this lens to the four studies led to five conclusions:

The traditional reports’ indices still lack balance. The indicators do not cover the full age or outcome spans. There are very few indicators of young adult well-being, despite the fact that data on health, education and employments status of young adults is available. While there were strong measures of physical, mental health and safety, indicators measuring outcome areas of connecting and leading were non-existent. Furthermore, these indicators are deficit focused. There is also a heavy focus on outcome measures and few measures of performance (i.e. information on quality and quantity of services, environmental factors, and expenditures).

The new surveys’ indices fill some of the gaps. The indicators in the two new surveys are predominantly positive. They cover the range of outcome areas and include many indicators to measure outcome areas such as connecting and leading, areas that severely lacked indicators in the traditional indices. We do caution that the data in these surveys are self-reported and focus on limited subgroup of school age population.

It is possible to achieve more balance. Traditional indices lack balance for very good reasons, the quality and availability of data. Therefore, the critical question is whether it is possible to create a more balanced report while adhering to stringent data quality rules. Working with the Ready by 21 Child and Youth Outcomes Dashboard, Child Trends and the Forum for Youth Investment explored this question in an upcoming paper, Tracking the Big Picture of Child & Youth Well-Being.

It is possible to create a comprehensive set of environmental indicators. A new effort underway at the federal level examines the impact of a comprehensive set of indicators on child well-being. The National Children’s Study, led by a consortium of federal partners, is currently examining environmental effects on child well-being.

States and localities can blend data sets to create more balanced reports. State and local leaders are recognizing that good data – accurate, timely, and disaggregated – can help them work better, smarter, and more efficiently on behalf of children and youth. They are blending data sources to create the tools they need to not only analyze trends but predict change.

While there is value in continuity, future indices need to go beyond reiterating information the public heard before. We owe it out youth to collect and communicate meaningful information in ways that inspire action. Hopefully, our next analyses can capture the progress we have made.


Bigger Goals

Can community based solutions have an impact on adolescent health? The answer is yes, according to Healthy Communities Matter: The Importance of Place to the Health of Boys of Color. African American boys experience worse health outcomes than their white peers. The study points to neighborhood conditions, including poverty and the lack of access to comprehensive services as the main cause of the disparity. The health of communities is made of inseparable parts. The authors recommend leaders to connect access to health services to workforce development and broader educational access among other things to move the dial on physical and mental health.

Broader Partnerships

How can philanthropic partnerships reduce childhood obesity? The philanthropic community understands the importance connection between food, food insecurity, and children's well-being. From funding high-quality research to investing in policy reform, communications, improving advocacy infrastructure, and direct support to front line programs, foundations have addressed this issue in a multifaceted, sustained and disciplined manner. In Philanthropic Efforts to Address Childhood Hunger and Nutrition, Grantmakers for Children, Youth & Families review the results of their partnerships with different sectors to reduce childhood obesity. They also lay out next steps that foundations should take to deepen the work and strengthen the partnerships at the federal, state and local levels.

Bolder Strategies

How can out-of-school time programs improve youth outcomes? In How Out-of-School Time Program Quality is Related to Adolescent Outcomes, Child Trends confirms findings from other similar studies that high quality out-of-school time program make a difference. The study concludes that youth participating in high-quality programs engage less in risky behaviors, have greater social competency and better school performance. On the other hand, their data also revealed that youth participating in low-quality programs did not have better outcomes than youth that did not participate in a program.

How can you recruit and retain older youth in out-of-school programs? While there is evidence to indicate participation in out-of-school time activities increases positive outcomes, recruiting and retaining older youth in these programs is a hard task. A new report by Public/Private Ventures explores the answer to this very question in their new publication, Recruiting and Retaining Older African-American and Hispanic Boys in Afterschool Programs: What We Know and What We Still Need to Learn. The findings suggest that making programs relevant leads to better recruitment and retention. The report also argues that relevance should occur at both the surface level – language used, the way materials are presented, location of programs – and the deep structural level – addresses cultural, social, and historical factors that influence the participants’ behavior.

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Publishing Date: 
September 13, 2010
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