What do young people need?

Originally published in the Herald Tribune

Sarasota County Openly Plans for Excellence (SCOPE) has partnered with the Positive Youth Development Council to help develop a community-wide plan for children and youths. Local organization leaders have determined that developing a research-based, county-wide plan will allow our communities to make better decisions about addressing the needs of children and youths in Sarasota County.

SCOPE is in the process of gathering data through a gaps-and-needs assessment that will provide a foundation on which to build the plan. We are asking adults and teenagers in Sarasota County to take our needs-assessment survey. The links to surveys are on our website, with versions in both English and Spanish: www.scopesarasota.org/sarasotacyp.

The initiative is being funded by Sarasota County and supported by dozens of youth-related nonprofit organizations, many of whom have representatives serving on the Leadership Committee, which is guiding the development of the plan.

As part of the needs assessment, we have so far conducted 12 focus groups, mostly with children and youths throughout the county. It’s amazing what we have learned by listening to young people. One of the questions we ask in our focus groups is: What do you wish adults understood about you?

“They need to understand that we’re trying,” said one young participant at the Laurel Civic Association. Another participant from the Triad Alternative School at the YMCA responded: “We go through different things than they did when they were our age.” These focus groups have given us insight into young people’s issues and challenges, what they like about their communities and their aspirations for the future.

We’ve also been conducting interviews with subject-matter experts. We have had 46 (and counting) in-depth interviews with leaders of organizations specializing in early learning, mental health care, juvenile justice, homelessness and other fields so that we can combine that knowledge to tell a story that would not be revealed by quantitative data and statistics alone.

Despite the variety of perspectives of subject-matter experts, almost all of them agree: We must start investing in children earlier in order to prevent more dire and expensive consequences later on.

Consider this statistic mentioned by one of our experts: The most expensive 10 to 15 children in the child welfare system cost a cumulative $1 million per year. The same expert notes that, according to a national study, for every dollar spent on prevention, $18 are saved.

We ask all of our subject-matter experts what they think can be done to address the needs of children and youths. At the end of the process we will summarize their responses and, along with other data and information, they will be used by the Leadership Committee to determine the recommendations, strategies and action steps that go into the plan.

The surveys for adults and teenagers are the last leg of our needs-assessment process. The surveys will allow us to get input from parents, teachers, service providers, and other community members.

So far we have received over 200 responses to our adult survey, and over 100 responses to our teen survey. With the help of community members and organizational leaders, we hope to get many more by the end of the month. The findings from our needs assessment will be made available through our website by August