Reflecting on 25 Years of the KIDS COUNT Data Book: Rethinking Public Services (1993)

Posted September 11, 2014
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog reflectingon25yearsof Data Book 2014

A more con­densed ver­sion of this arti­cle also is available.

Harlem res­i­dent James Wash­ing­ton says he was get­ting ready to make the wrong moves”—selling drugs at age 16 to help sup­port his family—when his life took an unex­pect­ed turn. A neigh­bor who worked at the Rheedlen Cen­ters for Chil­dren and Fam­i­lies hand­ed his sis­ter a slip of paper with a phone num­ber for her broth­er. That call led to a job deliv­er­ing pack­ages and clean­ing the Rheedlen offices after school, but it turned into so much more,” says Washington.

The job helped Wash­ing­ton assist his sin­gle moth­er in pay­ing the bills, while Rheedlen also offered him men­tor­ing, home­work help, field trips to cul­tur­al events and sup­port to fin­ish high school and go to col­lege. Geof­frey Cana­da, then Rheedlen’s pres­i­dent, once held up a board meet­ing to con­vince Wash­ing­ton to change his mind when he heard the young man was think­ing of post­pon­ing college.

Wash­ing­ton, now 32, has a master’s degree in human ser­vices and is direc­tor of ele­men­tary and mid­dle school pro­grams run by the Harlem Children’s Zone at PS 149. I believe God brought me here so he could work on me but also so that I could do the same for oth­ers,” he says. There is no bet­ter reward than know­ing you helped anoth­er person.” 

The Rheedlen Cen­ters, which began as a tru­an­cy pre­ven­tion pro­gram, helped launch the Bea­con Schools in New York City, one of the first one-stop shop­ping” mod­els to pro­vide com­pre­hen­sive social and com­mu­ni­ty ser­vices based in and around schools. Under Canada’s lead­er­ship and with pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tor part­ners, the pro­gram evolved into the Harlem Children’s Zone, a sweep­ing set of ini­tia­tives serv­ing a 97-block swath of Cen­tral Harlem with inten­sive sup­port from birth through col­lege grad­u­a­tion. The Zone serves more than 24,000 chil­dren and adults. 

This is the kind of approach envi­sioned in the 1993 KIDS COUNT Data Book essay, Rethink­ing Pub­lic Efforts on Behalf of America’s Most Dis­ad­van­taged Kids and Fam­i­lies.” The essay argues that most of the nation’s invest­ments in child wel­fare, health and juve­nile jus­tice have been expen­sive reac­tions to prob­lems that are already ful­ly devel­oped and severe.” It calls for pol­i­cy and fund­ing reforms to pro­mote pre­ven­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tion in address­ing social prob­lems and serv­ing families. 

The Casey Foun­da­tion was an ear­ly sup­port­er of the Bea­con Schools and var­i­ous pub­lic human ser­vices reform efforts that sought to embody this approach. 

My rela­tion­ship with the Casey Foun­da­tion goes back to the evo­lu­tion of the youth devel­op­ment field, when peo­ple like Richard Mur­phy, Michelle Cahill and Karen Pittman were writ­ing about the assets young peo­ple need to suc­ceed,” says Cana­da. The com­pre­hen­sive approach Casey talked about is now part of the lex­i­con of folks who work in our move­ment, and so is the recog­ni­tion that this work requires a major long-term investment.”

It’s hard for me to think about a world with­out these con­cepts,” notes Anne Williams-Isom, the new chief exec­u­tive offi­cer of the Harlem Children’s Zone since Cana­da retired July 1, 2014. Before serv­ing as chief oper­at­ing offi­cer there for five years, she was a deputy com­mis­sion­er in the New York City Admin­is­tra­tion for Children’s Ser­vices. She was also a Fel­low in Casey’s Chil­dren and Fam­i­ly Fel­low­ship pro­gram, an expe­ri­ence that encour­aged her to probe how well tra­di­tion­al pro­grams were work­ing and whether chil­dren were bet­ter off. 

Head Start has always includ­ed ele­ments of blend­ing ear­ly edu­ca­tion and oth­er social ser­vices, but in more recent years the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment has enact­ed broad­er ini­tia­tives span­ning edu­ca­tion, hous­ing, health and human ser­vices. One is the Promise Neigh­bor­hoods, which pro­vides grants to enti­ties in 20 states and the Dis­trict of Colum­bia to improve edu­ca­tion­al and devel­op­men­tal out­comes for chil­dren in dis­tressed com­mu­ni­ties through cra­dle-to-career solu­tions” includ­ing edu­ca­tion­al pro­grams and fam­i­ly and com­mu­ni­ty support.

Anoth­er effort, called Promise Zones, helps local lead­ers nav­i­gate pro­grams to revi­tal­ize neigh­bor­hoods, attract invest­ment, improve afford­able hous­ing and edu­ca­tion­al oppor­tu­ni­ties and curb crime. The Zones are specif­i­cal­ly engi­neered to accel­er­ate the abil­i­ty of strong local stake­hold­ers to access fed­er­al funds in a mul­ti-dis­ci­pli­nary way,” notes Valerie Piper, deputy assis­tant sec­re­tary for eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment at the U.S. Depart­ment of Hous­ing and Urban Development.

In Jan­u­ary 2014, Pres­i­dent Oba­ma called to mind the lega­cy of the Harlem Children’s Zone in announc­ing the first five Promise Zones, a mix of urban, rur­al and trib­al com­mu­ni­ties. For the last 17 years, the Harlem Children’s Zone … has proven we can make a dif­fer­ence,” Oba­ma said. If you can demon­strate the abil­i­ty and the will to launch an all-encom­pass­ing, all-hands-on-deck approach to reduc­ing pover­ty and expand­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty, we’ll help you get the resources to do it. We’ll take resources from some of the pro­grams that we’re already doing and con­cen­trate them. We’ll make sure that our agen­cies are work­ing togeth­er more effec­tive­ly. We’ll put in tal­ent to help you plan. But we’re also going to hold you account­able and mea­sure your progress,” he told the Promise Zone designees.

Oth­er fed­er­al ini­tia­tives, such as Per­for­mance Part­ner­ship Pilots, give states and local­i­ties more flex­i­bil­i­ty to use funds across fed­er­al pro­grams for vul­ner­a­ble youth if they com­mit to improv­ing edu­ca­tion­al, employ­ment and oth­er outcomes.

A key advance­ment is that we know now that changes in the way we deliv­er ser­vices are not enough to change lives,” notes Lis­beth B. Schorr, a senior fel­low at the Cen­ter for the Study of Social Pol­i­cy and author of With­in Our Reach: Break­ing the Cycle of Dis­ad­van­tage and Com­mon Pur­pose: Strength­en­ing Fam­i­lies and Neigh­bor­hoods to Rebuild Amer­i­ca, two piv­otal books in the 1980s and 1990s that ana­lyzed effec­tive strate­gies to com­bat social prob­lems. We see that the way fam­i­lies live, includ­ing eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment and employ­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties in com­mu­ni­ties, deeply affect what hap­pens to kids.”

Today, she notes, the most promis­ing efforts help recip­i­ents of ser­vices become par­tic­i­pants in improv­ing their own lives and work to improve prospects for chil­dren and par­ents simul­ta­ne­ous­ly. This is a hall­mark of Casey’s two-gen­er­a­tion” strat­e­gy in ini­tia­tives from ear­ly child­hood to fam­i­ly-cen­tered com­mu­ni­ty change.

The North­side Achieve­ment Zone (the NAZ) in North Min­neapo­lis, a Promise Neigh­bor­hoods grantee, works to end pover­ty through edu­ca­tion by cre­at­ing a pipeline of sup­port from ear­ly child­hood to col­lege. Chil­dren and their par­ents receive inten­sive sup­port to over­come obsta­cles relat­ed to aca­d­e­m­ic achieve­ment as well as hous­ing, career path­ways, health and oth­er issues. 

Like oth­er Promise Neigh­bor­hoods, the NAZ gets expert help from the Cen­ter for the Study of Social Pol­i­cy, Pol­i­cyLink and the Harlem Children’s Zone. We burn up their phone lines,” notes Son­dra Samuels, the pres­i­dent and chief exec­u­tive offi­cer of the NAZ. In a com­mu­ni­ty where young peo­ple of col­or often fall prey to vio­lence, the work is real,” says Samuels, who is rais­ing three daugh­ters here. I would be dispir­it­ed if not for the work this com­mu­ni­ty is doing in terms of col­lec­tive impact. Bad things might still be hap­pen­ing, but we are putting things in place inter-gen­er­a­tional­ly so it doesn’t keep happening.”

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