United Way Advocacy: A Big Win for Youth Reengagement
United Way of King County advocates for you and your neighbors. From city halls to county chambers to the Olympia State House, we and our community partners are petitioning lawmakers to enact policies that will ensure a better quality of life for all residents while undoing the vestiges of systemic racism and economic inequality.
Our efforts have generated key policy, budget, and implementation wins. This is a monthly advocacy blog post that highlights those victories and explains what they mean to people like you. This month, we spotlight a state funding win for youth who are not enrolled in traditional schools but seek to continue their education in nontraditional settings.
Open Doors Youth Reengagement is an education program sponsored by the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) for youth ages 16-21 who are not enrolled in traditional school and are not on track to graduate high school by their 21st birthday.
These youth have been pushed out and do not have access to their education. Open Doors reengages these youth through programs that include community partnerships and individualized support models that help them succeed.
Usually, Open Doors Youth Reengagement programs run for 10 months to coincide with the regular academic calendar. But United Way and others have advocated for these programs to be funded for 12 months, particularly since they often enroll youth whose participation does not follow a normal academic calendar.
That includes those exiting the juvenile justice system, who often need the flexibility to engage their education when and where it works best for them.
After five years of petitioning state lawmakers to expand the program, United Way’s advocacy efforts paid off this year, when the Washington Legislature approved a two-year, $2.5 million pilot for 12 programs across the state to be selected by OSPI with a priority on programs serving youth exiting state residential institutions.
The mandate is a major step toward ensuring quality education for all in Washington state. We chatted with Joy Y. Sebe, United Way associate director of education strategies, to learn more about how the funding benefits a group of youth that she says are some of the most “invisible” in the education system.
United Way of King County: Please explain why expanding the funding from 10 months to 12 months is so important.
Joy Sebe: In my conversations with OSPI, I learned that it takes a lot of time and trust-building to enroll a young person into the re-engagement program. And then because the re-engagement programs only have had 10 months of funding, they must unenroll the young people for two months, track them down again, and then re-enroll them two months later.
United Way of King County: And how did that two-month gap affect the reengagement process?
Joy Sebe: Discontinuing the services and un-enrolling them damages the trust with the young person because you’re saying, “Sorry, I know you need help, but I can’t help you for two months.” Then you lose contact with the young person because they are not in a high school. They’ve been pushed out or they’ve dropped out. So, it’s not a pattern where they leave for summer vacation and they come back. It doesn’t work the way reengagement programs need to work.
United Way of King County: What are the other key elements of this policy?
Joy Sebe: The policy win secures basic needs funding for the staff who work in the Open Doors reengagement centers by allowing them to connect [youth to resources]. For example, if a young person needs clothes to interview for a job or assistance with basic needs, previously staff didn’t have access to funds. Now, they can tap into a limited but now existing pool of money to help. This really helps young people and their families (To learn more about United Way’s Reconnecting Youth work, click here).
United Way of King County: What was United Way’s role in securing this policy win?
Joy Sebe: United Way led the charge in partnership with our stakeholders. We have been working on this issue for five years and are so grateful to OSPI, Treehouse, Stand for Children, and Paula Sardinas of Washington Build Back Black Alliance for their advocacy and partnership. When I met with OSPI while working for United Way, I saw that it was very different from when I did so while working for Open Doors for Multicultural Families. United Way has influence and power.
We work across different sectors. For example, we also partner with OSPI to help schools distribute meals to students. We also hold power as philanthropists. When we push for policy and systems change, mainstream institutions listen and that includes OSPI.
If a young person needs clothes to interview for a job or assistance with basic needs, previously staff didn’t have access to funds. Now, they can tap into a limited but now existing pool of money to help. This really helps young people and their families.Joy Y. Sebe, United Way associate director of education strategies
United Way of King County: How does this win align with United Way’s work in education?
Joy Sebe: From where I’ve sat looking at how young people are served, this group of young people who are formerly incarcerated and pushed out of schools are some of the most invisible young people within the education system. United Way, in collaboration with all of its partners, has been able to shine a light and make these young people visible.
United Way of King County: If I am a young person who would like to take advantage of these services how do I do so?
Joy Sebe: You would need to find a program that is close to you and try to enroll in that program. Five program sites were launched in July and August, and next summer the program will expand to 12 sites.