Through their work with young people in Los Angeles, both LAUSD and EWDD/WIB recognized the pervasiveness of youth’s disconnection from work and school. However, the data presented in a report from Northeastern University crystallized the need for a partnership to improve outcomes for youth who are out-of-school/out-of-work. The report indicated that approximately 100,000 out of 500,000 Los Angeles youth, ages 18 through 24, had either dropped out of high school or had graduated but were not employed or enrolled in a postsecondary institution. This was the first time that the scope of the problem was laid out clearly, prompting a sense of urgency and a need for action. A shared alarm at the report’s findings fostered the collaborative efforts among key stakeholders from LAUSD and EWDD/WIB to address the problem. When both entities received additional funding to serve this population, it was clear that these new findings caused a shift in perspective—participating agencies would be taking this problem much more seriously.
The partners have worked successfully across youth-serving systems while still honoring confidentiality policies. FERPA restricts the sharing of school districts’ student data (e.g., educational records) with other youth-serving systems and can pose a challenge to other systems that want to work collaboratively with the education system. In light of FERPA, two separate data systems are maintained in YouthSource Centers. One data system is maintained by EWDD/WIB and is used, in part, to track the number of individuals coming into the Centers to work with LAUSD staff. The other data system, maintained by LAUSD, includes students’ educational and attendance records. Because of FERPA, EWDD/WIB and its nonprofit contractors cannot access LAUSD’s data. The LAUSD counselors co-located at the YouthSource Centers are the only individuals with access to school district data. Once a youth enters services and receives an orientation and an assessment, he or she is asked to sign a consent form allowing the case managers, social workers, and counselors to have conversations to help determine the best type of services for the particular youth client.
The collaboration has also helped prevent youth who need services from slipping through the cracks. Previously, to help staff assess the best placement, youth who are out-of-school who walked into one of the YouthSource Centers would be asked, “How many school credits do you have?” Often, these young people had no idea and were told to go back to the school they previously attended to get this information. For a variety of reasons, many students were unwilling to do this and would subsequently not return to the YouthSource Center and therefore never receive assistance. Finding a creative solution to improve this process allows youth who walk into one of the Centers to be greeted by staff who already have access to their educational records and can therefore begin connecting them to appropriate services.
Needs and resource assessments have been conducted over time in this collaboration to gather information for program planning and improvement. Several examples illustrate the use of needs/resource assessments:
- Counselors routinely map out the issues that families bring in and assess family needs and gaps in services. For example, many families said that they were struggling because of a lack of childcare. Subsequently, questions were asked internally about what could be done to provide more information or resources to help meet this need.
- YouthSource staff administered a survey to identify staff members’ professional development needs. The survey results illuminated important areas to address. For example, staff expressed a need for more information about dealing with difficult situations between a parent and a student.
- Data on dropout rates were considered when planning the locations for YouthSource Centers so that they are placed in areas with the greatest need for services.
Making the collaboration successful involves leveraging resources from EWDD/WIB and LAUSD, as well as those from the nonprofits that are contracted to provide services. By analyzing outcomes of the collaborative efforts, LAUSD recognized the impact of its investment. After committing to pay for half the counselor positions, LAUSD is seeing substantial numbers of students coming back to school, thus reducing the drop-out rate and the average number of absences.
On the EWDD/WIB side, there is an understanding that the collaboration is comprehensive and should be integrated into the operations of the entire youth-serving system instead of being viewed as something special, experimental, and set off to the side. For this reason, EWDD/WIB has been willing to make a serious commitment to this work. An additional attraction that helped seal the investment for EWDD/WIB is access to a variety of in-kind resources provided by LAUSD. For example, EWDD/WIB can now refer youth to LAUSD’s health clinics and school mental health centers.
The Malcolm Baldrige quality principles are used to guide continuous quality improvement across the 16 YouthSource Centers. The Centers also apply performance standards developed by the California Association for Professional Excellence (CAPE).
In the work activities of the collaboration, when something does not work at the YouthSource Centers or if something requires improvement, there is a focus on truly trying to fix the problem rather than simply assigning blame. In addition, open communication channels exist between LAUSD and EWDD/WIB so that when a problem arises, it can be dealt with immediately through a phone call. The issue does not have to wait until a scheduled meeting to be addressed. Stakeholders have attempted over time to implement this rapid communication process across the 16 YouthSource Centers.
The level of enthusiasm for the collaboration is high not only among leadership but also among staff members. Buy-in across multiple staff levels helps promote deeper absorption of the work into the existing infrastructure, thus contributing to sustainability. On the LAUSD side, staff are highly educated and passionate, with years of professional experience in schools and proven expertise in working with youth. The EWDD/WIB staff is slightly smaller, but the team is equally knowledgeable, passionate, and committed. New staff members from both systems (LAUSD and EWDD/WIB) join the collaboration through participating in shared training events, thus helping to ensure that the collaboration continues and matures over time and does not depend on the efforts of just a few current staff.