Commissioners delay action on youth initiative

May. 13, 2013 @ 11:33 PM

County Commissioners on Monday postponed a decision on whether to support a new initiative designed to better organize services for “disconnected” youth who’ve fallen off the track leading to education and jobs.

Several fretted that the proposal, from Alliance Behavior Healthcare, was vague and potentially repeats efforts that have failed in the past.

“I’m just a little baffled as to the clarity of what it is we’re doing,” Commissioner Brenda Howerton told administrators. “We want it to be approved tonight, and I’m just not clear on how it’s all working.”

The plan from Alliance calls for the county to join with the city and the Durham Public Schools in funding a youth services coordinator and one other new position, and in creating a new youth services steering committee.

Officials would also hire consultants to help with a four- to six-month planning effort, one they hope would produce the sort of coordination on the youth front they’ve tried to orchestrate for mental-health services.

The ideas follow up on a report last year written by IBM executives tied to the company’s “Smarter Cities Challenge” that said Durham’s leaders have to address “the disparity of educational achievement and economic opportunity for its youth.”

That most visibly means school dropouts and eventually unemployment, but the executives noted that those are often the result of longer-term problems.

Though the community has “multiple services” to address them, “the landscape of service providers in Durham is fragmented and unclear,” particularly to the children, teens and families that need them, the IBM report said.

But the report also noted that continuity – “serial pilots, which are rarely sustained” – is a problem that’s dogged local attempts to deal with youth in the 14-to-25 age bracket.

A Durham political activist, DeWarren Langley, made much the same point to commissioners on Monday.

He noted that political leaders launched a youth coordinating board in the 1990s only to disband it early in the 2000s.

“We’ve been here before,” Langley said, like Howerton arguing that there’s a need on the front end to spell out “where we are going and how we’re going to get there.”

But Alliance’s community relations director, Ann Oshel, told commissioners uncertainty comes with the territory at the start of a planning effort, and resolves itself as participating organizations start working together.

The key task facing local governments and other interests, she added, is to figure out how “you create a whole system” for engaging youth “when they begin to drift.”

Commissioner Ellen Reckhow said a brief delay would buy time for her colleagues to get their questions about the initiative answered.

County Manager Mike Ruffin said the issue would likely resurface during the board’s June 3 work session.