Letter: Youth programs work

It costs each of us when a kid drops out of high school. A cost-saving solution is community-based youth intervention programs. These programs are putting kids on the road to becoming productive, tax-paying community members as adults. And the programs are a smart use of our money. Economists in Minnesota have estimated a five dollar return on investment for each dollar spent on a community-based youth intervention program. This leaves those of us involved in youth intervention work scratching our heads and wondering why our programs are facing cuts.

A high school dropout receives more than $71,000 in cash or other benefits from the public sector than what they pay in taxes over their working lifetime, as estimated by Andrew Sum, an economist from Northeastern University in Chicago using U.S. census data. His study also showed that when a kid graduates from high school, he/she pays $236,000 more in taxes than benefits received over their working lifetime. It is even more when a kid graduates from college.

At an average cost of $2,000 per year per kid, community-based youth intervention programs provide kids with the additional support they sometimes need to graduate from high school and be ready for college or the workforce. Results from these programs in Minnesota include 80 percent of kids who committed a juvenile crime not re-offending and 50 percent reporting improved attendance at schools, as well as better grades or classroom behaviors compared to before they began a youth intervention program. With these outcomes and a five dollar return on investment, community-based youth intervention programs are not a financial drain.

I work at Pearl Crisis Center where we provide kids with multiple opportunities for involvement and assistance when facing difficult issues. Through our Safe Start program we have opportunities available for children to meet with a child advocate, groups for children who have experienced or witnessed domestic violence, in our agency and two local schools, and groups for parents to help their children when they have witnessed or experienced domestic violence. Our  teen advocate on staff provides a curriculum called Safe Dates in three area schools to high school students, is able to meet with teen victims of dating violence/domestic violence, and also we have the Teens Against Dating Abuse group which is active in three local schools. TADA is teen-led with the teen advocate facilitating monthly meetings with the teens to not only educate, but have discussion and look at ways youth can help educate their communities and prevent teen dating abuse. We see the result through the consistency of attendance at support groups, continuance of children meeting with the child advocate, the response from community organizations to referring individuals to programs and receptiveness to implementing groups in the schools, collaboration with community agencies on youth programming strategies, community education classes, TADA membership, referral and continuance of teen advocacy services with individuals, and the data we receive from the Safe Dates curriculum in the schools. The more kids we work with in well-run, cost-effective community-based programs the better off our kids and communities will be. Youth intervention works, it saves money and we need more of it… not less.

Krista McFarland

Youth Programs Coordinator

Pearl Crisis Center