A Bend in the Trends

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A battery of positive youth indicators over the past decade has brought encouraging news to all youth workers.

Teen pregnancy, smoking and juvenile crime, among other indicators, have significantly improved. For example, Child Trends points out that “government statistics show that the violent crime rate among teens has reached its lowest recorded level in more than 25 years,” and that “between 1990 and 2000, juvenile crime declined by 56 percent.”

But perception is everything. A recent Child Trends research brief notes: “Sixty-six percent of adults believe that the percentage of teens who commit violent crimes has increased over the past 10 years, and another 25 percent believe that it has remained the same, while only 5 percent believe that it has decreased.”

Just how much credit can the youth service field reasonably claim for the positive youth development trends over the past decade? At least as much as some others who regularly receive kudos, such as law enforcement and K-12 education. Two factors certainly stand out: The robust economy of the ’90s and the political will, until recent years, to spend and work smart on behalf of the nation’s children and youth.

However, the downturn in the economy and major shifts in tax policy and federal spending practices are taking their toll.

A number of national youth-focused organizations have recently closed shop, including the 20-year-old Child Care Acton Campaign and a service-learning group known for much of its history as the Early Adolescent Helpers Network.

Local programs are even harder hit. The Just Youth diversion program, run by Spectrum Youth and Family Services in Vermont, is gone. So is the YouthBuild program run by Central Minnesota Jobs and Training Services; STAGE, a Kern County, Calif., program for high-risk kids entering high school; and a half dozen youth programs operated by the Forest Hills Community House in Queens, New York.

What these closures and countless others forecast is another bend in youth indicator trends. That bend will not be for the better.

One perverse consolation for youth workers: Few people acknowledged youth works’ contributions over the past decade, and few will blame practitioners for teen problems. Better, says America’s political ruling class, to once again pin the bad rap on young people themselves.

Youth Today: 11, Going on 12?

This issue marks Youth Today’s 11th anniversary. Since our first appearance, in September 1992, we have published 88 editions and more than 4.6 million copies of the newspaper on youth work.

Launching Youth Today with only $200,000 in start-up funding was a fortuitous example of ignorance as bliss. A typical start-up budget for a commercial national periodical is about $5 million. Dumb to the challenge and thanks to our founding funders – the Ford, C.S. Mott, Annie E. Casey and AT&T foundations – we began with a controlled (free) circulation of about 10,000.

We began charging for Youth Today in 1998. Today, paid subscriptions equal the press run for the first 1992 edition. However, with our subscription price set low enough to be affordable for even the most fiscally precarious youth program, it generates less than $200,000 in income a year. That is not even enough to cover our annual printing bill.

One thing Youth Today has never had to worry about is competition. No sensible publisher is going to compete for a clientele as impoverished or reluctant to spend on professional staff development as the go-it-alone, reinvent-the-wheel prone youth-service field.

Our ability to serve this less than lucrative market has been made possible by continuous grant support from the Ford, C.S. Mott and Annie E. Casey foundations. Other current funders include the Pinkerton, Packard, California Wellness, Gund, E.M. Kauffman, W.T. Grant, Daniels, Hazen and Surdna foundations, and the Open Society Institute.

Also essential to our survival are our advertisers. They want to reach an elusive market: the estimated 3 million people who work with youth outside of regular schools. Advertising in Youth Today is a cost-effective and efficient way to reach decision-makers and those who manage youth programs. Patronizing these advertisers is another way Youth Today’s readers can support our independent journalism.

As always, Youth Today’s ability to celebrate its next anniversary rests with the children and youth field’s collective willingness to support journalism not designed to soothe the sensitivities of government, philanthropy, advertisers, national youth-serving agencies or practitioners.

Support from the children and youth field, via subscribing and advertising, has been gratifying. Recent multiple subscribers illustrate the diversity of the field. They include Covenant United Methodist Church in Dothan, Ala.; Brockton Rise Youth Opportunity Center in Massachusetts; the Central Tribes of Shawnee in Oklahoma; the Youth Service Administration in San Antonio; and YouthCare in Seattle.

We do not accept government grants (but then, who’d offer?), and we are not exempt from the current cutbacks in foundation grant making. It is hoped that as we tighten our belts, youth agencies will be even more forthcoming in taking out subscriptions for each of their work sites and in advertising in Youth Today.