Dear Obama Claus

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Illustrations by Dean MacAdam

After Barack Obama won last month’s presidential election, gatherings of youth workers and advocates took on the air of kids waiting for Santa to land at the mall.

Not only is the youth work field dominated by liberals, but many practitioners and leaders of various political stripes felt that the eight years of the Bush administration were the most miserable they could remember in terms of funding and policy.

So just two days after the vote, about 150 juvenile justice advocates packed a Georgetown Law School lecture hall in Washington to tell a panel of justice experts what they want from the new administration. When it was over after three hours, Shay Bilchik – the former head of the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and of the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) – told the panel, “What has been suppressed is ready to be unleashed.”

Wish lists are flying at the Obama transition team – some through formal briefing documents (like CWLA and the Children’s Defense Fund), some letters and e-mails.

“It’s a time for optimism,” Obama adviser Charles Ogletree declared as he led the Nov. 6 juvenile justice panel hosted by the American Bar Association (ABA). At an Urban Institute (UI) forum a week later, “The Children’s Policy Agenda in a Time of Transition and Turmoil,” panelists advised the nearly 100 attendees about how to get the ear of Obama administration officials.

“I’m pumped, I am very pumped,” Jay Blitzman, a juvenile judge from Lowell, Mass., said at the ABA event.


Everyone cautions that the giddy anticipation must be tempered by the harsh fiscal realities facing the federal government and the nation. “If current trends continue, there will be fewer resources to make the kinds of investments that many of us believe in,” panelist Joan Huffer, a federal spending expert at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said at the UI event, co-hosted by the University of Chicago’s Chapin Hall Center for Children.

And everyone has to cram into line with every other special interest in the country. “It’s just unimaginable how much information comes in,” said panelist Stephen Goldsmith, the former Indianapolis mayor who worked on the transition of President George W. Bush.

“Getting through all the noise” will be difficult, concurred Sheri Steisel, senior director of the Human Services Committee of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

How can the youth field get noticed?

At the ABA gathering, Ogletree advised: “Cost savings will be the key to selling your program.”

Goldsmith urged latching onto known priorities, like national service and job creation. For example: “Link kids to service,” because Obama pledged to expand national service programs, college graduates are enthusiastic about service, and much of that service is done at youth programs.

Youth Today gathered some of the formal policy briefings and invited informal contributions from throughout the field, from national associations to community-based agencies. Some are printed here. The complete responses appear here.