This is the first post in our monthly blog series highlighting the work of the Opportunity Youth Partnership.
The Opportunity Youth Partnership (OYP) is a collective impact initiative in Santa Clara County. Opportunity Youth are 16-24-years-old disconnected from education and/or employment. In Santa Clara County there are over 20,000 Opportunity Youth (see page 31). The OYP’s priority populations are Opportunity Youth who have experienced the justice system, foster systems, and/or homelessness, as well as those who are pregnant/parenting. This initiative brings together community based organizations and nonprofits, public systems, and employers to build pathways to education and career that lead to durable self-sufficiency.
On the cusp of systemic transformation
By: Joe Herrity
Associate Director, Opportunity Youth Partnership
We need a Comprehensive Second Chance System (C2CS). When youth and young adults fall off track (or were never offered a fair start), we need a reliable, repeatable, and measurable set of linked services and supports to help them get back on track. After 4+ years of work, the Opportunity Youth Partnership (OYP) has arrived at a clear vision: a Comprehensive Second Chance System. The entirety of such a system is focused on moving Opportunity Youth to durable self-sufficiency, which is achieved through connections to education and employment.
A C2CS is built upon the recognition that there is only one way to achieve durable self-sufficiency: a living wage job. And the most reliable way to a living wage job is postsecondary education and training. By 2020 it is projected that two-thirds of jobs will require postsecondary education, thus the need to move Opportunity Youth toward education pathways is more important than ever. As such, a C2CS places education squarely at the center of all work on behalf of Opportunity Youth, linking resources and supports around the goal of educational attainment. If an Opportunity Youth touches services or systems in Santa Clara County, they should be entering an on-ramp to education and training pathways. Through the work of the OYP, we are closer than ever to such a system.
We are fortunate to have many of the resources we need. Now, the task is to carefully knit these elements together to move from an environment of programs and services, to an ecosystem of integrated and aligned pathways to prosperity – a Comprehensive Second Chance System. To forge resources into a system we must:
- Ensure existing resources are deployed toward common outcomes. The axiom “what gets measured gets done” rings true here; we need CBOs and systems to measure the same things, on the same timelines, and in the same way, and thereby get done the very things that matter most for Opportunity Youth to achieve durable self-sufficiency.
- Build a new an unprecedented level of coordination and communication across agencies and systems. With recognition that no service in this County provides all that an Opportunity Youth needs to reach durable self-sufficiency, we should act on the imperative to intentionally map and coordinate services to holistically address the needs of each individual. This will take a new level of collaboration and partnership, and require investments in the capacity to coordinate.
- Invest in building education reengagement expertise. Currently, when a young person who left school without a diploma makes the tough choice to return, there is no systematic way to connect them to a best-fit institution. And the same chaos exists in the postsecondary arena as well. If we believe that education is the bedrock of service to Opportunity Youth, then we should develop a robust set of services and tools that allow us to connect them to game changing education opportunities. This set of services and tools would amplify all other investments in supportive and educational services.
As a community, we can choose to pay now or later. We can invest in opportunity now, and we can do so with hope and in a manner that matches the brain science of young adulthood. Or, we can choose to pay later, by pouring resources into punishment, sustained deprivation, and services that ensure dependency. A 2012 report from the federal Corporation for National and Community Service, estimated a direct annual taxpayer burden of $13,900 per Opportunity Youth, and a social burden of $37,450 per Opportunity Youth. Our 20,000+ Opportunity Youth cost Santa Clara County $275M per year in direct costs alone. A C2CS is a true win-win. If we build this right, we will ensure Opportunity Youth have meaningful access to the supports and experiences needed to build a future that works. Our community will save precious resources by investing in opportunity rather than managing larger and larger problems.
Over the next 12 months, we will feature a monthly series posts from OYP’s many champions highlighting the efforts, organizations, and systems that are doing the work on the ground. Opportunity youth have always needed pathways to prosperity. Now, our leaders have the will, the technological tools are available, and the commitment of practitioners is strong. Santa Clara County is finally ready to respond, we are finally ready to offer a future that works.
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