One of our Zero Youth Detention objectives is to focus upstream to enhance positive supports to young people to prevent youth from entering the juvenile legal system. The Latinx Youth Engagement Project, run by the Department of Community and Human Services’ (DCHS) Children and Youth Services Division, is a great example of positive community development that both serves, and is guided by, young people.
The project was recently highlighted on the King County Employee blog in an article by Lilia Cabello Drain. Read below for the original post:
King County is committed to being a place where every person can succeed and fulfill their potential. It is important to further work being done that allows every community here to thrive and have the opportunities it deserves. A current program in the DCHS, through the Children and Youth Services division, seeks to do this for underserved Latinx youth.
The King County Reengagement System, working closely with the Roadmap Project, coordinates with local partners to reduce education and employment disparities faced by youth and young people in King County. As part of this effort, Hannelore Makhani, Reengagement System Manager within DCHS, is overseeing the Latinx Youth Engagement Project. This project seeks to understand how Latinx youth are being served by reengagement programs in King County and how to improve services and increase graduation rates by speaking directly to them and gathering feedback.
“One of my responsibilities is to help the system understand our performance—both areas worth celebrating and places where we need to focus our improvement energy,” Hannelore said.
In 2018, Hannelore held six listening sessions and spoke with over 40 Latinx young people. Themes were identified within their discussions and professional development efforts were launched for staff in hopes of improving youth experience and achievements.
Through analyzing the data submitted by 28 community partners providing education reengagement services over an extended period, Hannelore was able to see the disconnect between services and outcomes. It was discovered Latinx students had the highest need for reengagement when the data was separated out in various ways, including race.
“For over two years now, I have been collecting program outcome data each quarter,” she said. “This is how we uncovered that Latinx students as a whole are so much less likely to graduate than other racial groups in reengagement.”
“Because there are limitations to what information data can provide, the next logical step was to go to young people and ask youth for feedback directly,” she added.
Hannelore explains that many times, service providers look at the data about their services and make assumptions about how to improve them, often at the expense of those receiving the services. The Latinx Youth Engagement Project wanted to avoid that misstep, and hear directly from the youth themselves.
“I have loved this part of the project and the youth have found it empowering as well,” she said.
Now with this feedback and new funding from the Raikes Foundation and United Way of King County to continue the research project, it will move forward with Latinx youth leading it. Hannelore explains they will be trained and conduct at least 30 interviews, learn to analyze the data and communicate the findings with the overall community.
“This project is an example of our commitment to equity and social justice and to learning how to better serve young people and communities of color,” she said.
Within King County there are approximately 11,000 youth between the ages of 16-24 who are disconnected from school and do not have a high school diploma. These young people, who live primarily in south Seattle and south King County, often face exclusion from the many opportunities available in our growing region. Hannelore shares that while it can be challenging to develop programs like this, the work is needed – and ultimately rewarding – as it provides opportunities to those who need it most.
“We know that access to resources gets even more limited based on race,” Hannelore said. “Because of this, we feel strongly that research which allows us to improve upon or create new approaches to education or social services will help historically disenfranchised groups.”
“We can achieve equitable outcomes for young people in King County. It can be done, and this group is small enough that we can do the project, learn from it, and then replicate it to positively impact even more people.”