Nearly a year and a half in the making, Little Rock’s newly approved Youth Master Plan offers a “new consciousness and a new way of doing things,” according to the city’s head of community programs. The final plan was released this week and given the go-ahead by the city Board of Directors on Tuesday.
The new plan was the result of a collaborative effort between the department, a 10-person advisory committee, an Ohio-based consultant called Advocacy & Communications Solutions, LLC, and the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation.
Dana Dossett, director of the Little Rock Department of Community Programs, says the agency started more than 20 years ago with the intention of using city funds earmarked for Prevention, Invention and Treatment (PIT) programs that are intended to divert youth from violence and encourage them to become engaged citizens. The programs were largely a response to gang violence that affected the city in the 1990’s. Dossett says the department now works with about 12,000 people every year.
The revised Youth Master Plan has five main goals to be accomplished over the next three years:
1. Use data to identify unmet needs and prioritize services, identifying which neighborhoods and programs need the most resources.
“We’ve done it by zip code and sometimes within zip codes, [but] maybe the entire zip code didn’t need [the services], so in the past they were excluded. But there may be pockets within a certain zip code that may need services the most,” says Dossett.
2. Increase program quality and accountability.
“That basically means that all of the stakeholders who are involved in delivering services to children youth and their families within the city would have equal outcomes, benchmarks and indicators so that we have system-wide accountability. Everyone will be held to the same standard,” she says.
3. Enhance internal and external communication.
“We’ll be coming to the community to say ‘hey, we want to make sure your voice is heard in what we’re doing.’ Because we’re not professing to know everything there is to know everything there is to know about what’s happening in the city, but the citizens do. We want to make sure that they’re telling as much as we’re telling them what’s going on in the city,” she says.
The Community Programs department is also involving more city departments in their outreach work, a trend that will sustain under the new plan, according to Dossett.
4. Develop youth employability skills.
“With our summer youth employment program, and some of the other programs that we do to develop employability skills, we want to take that to the next level…It’s stuff that we’ve already been doing, but we plan on doing it even better going forward,” Dossett says.
5. Integrate children and youth in the decision making process regarding city programs and services.
“We don’t want to just push stuff out or push things down. We want to make sure the youth have a voice in whatever we do to make sure that it’s appropriate and that it’s what they actually want and would respond to, because sometimes when you don’t include them, it’s really not what they’re interested in.”
The Department of Community Programs has a budget of nearly $5.5 million, according to Dossett. The department’s biggest program is the annual summer youth employment programs, which allows about 650 to 700 teenagers the opportunity to take on jobs and learn work skills. The department also runs re-entry programs for ex-convicts, tobacco prevention programs, a career skills training center, and a summer youth entrepreneurship program, among others.