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Let’s embrace My Brother’s Keeper — and include out-of-school programs

Youth intervention providers should be “at the table” with schools and the juvenile justice system when developing youth policy.

President Obama signed a Presidential Memorandum establishing the My Brother's Keeper Task Force in February.
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

As the executive director of the Minnesota Youth Intervention Programs Association and as an individual, I was excited to see that 22 local foundations have committed to being part of a statewide My Brother’s Keeper learning table being established by the Minnesota Council of Foundations.

My Brother’s Keeper is a national initiative announced earlier this year with the goal of improving the lives of boys and young men of color. The learning table will provide funders with an opportunity to learn from each other on what is working here.

My Brother’s Keeper has so much potential to change the lives of youth and how we support youth as a community. But I am concerned about an oversight in its language that can limit its potential. My Brother’s Keeper states a need for cross cutting work and does cite schools and the juvenile justice system within recommendations related to milestones that are predicative of success in life. But it does not cite “Youth Intervention,” which encompasses various strategies in diverse settings that are designed to support youth in making good decisions. Youth Intervention embodies the cross cutting work that My Brother’s Keeper recognizes as being needed.

With this omission, are we losing a critical opportunity to shift the conversation on how we support youth? I think the answer is yes.

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The clarity of its intent would have been strengthened by explicitly including out-of-school time programs. There are a multitude of activities and services provided by community-based organizations apart from school districts or the juvenile justice system that help youth achieve success and thrive. Additionally, evaluation results have shown that while these programs may not have a specific focus on classroom academics, an increase in math and reading scores among participating youth is typical.

Youth spend twice as much time out of school than in school. Youth intervention programs reach youth during out-of-school time, change lives and improve the community. These programs represent a cost-effective strategy to ensure that youth become productive members of our society instead of life-long consumers of our public services. Youth intervention providers should be “at the table” with schools and the juvenile justice system when developing youth policy with their value reflected in funding decisions.

The City of St. Paul recently announced its “Youth Intervention Initiative.” Collaborators include law enforcement agencies and programs like the YWCA and other community agencies. In announcing the initiative, Mayor Chris Coleman stated that the crucial part in making a difference is “Catching our kids before they turn to activity they will regret…” Its intent was clear by including “Youth Intervention” in naming the initiative. It fully recognizes that supporting youth must extend beyond the classroom and the juvenile justice system.

So, let’s have “Youth Intervention” be part of our language, just like we use “Early Childhood” in policy and funding discussions. Embracing the term “Youth Intervention” can be a conversation shifter on how we support youth. And we need to shift the conversation now.

Paul Meunier is the executive director of the Minnesota Youth Intervention Programs Association.

A White House official will outline the My Brother’s Keeper strategy in Minneapolis on Tuesday. 


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