Testimony

Statement by
Dr. Michael O'Grady
Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation
Department of Health and Human Services
on
Examine Youth Development Program Coordination
before
House Committee on Education and the Workforce
Subcommittee on Select Education
U.S. House of Representatives

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Introduction
Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, I am pleased to have this opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the important issue of coordinating our Federal efforts to improve the lives of youth, particularly those young people who need our help the most. The President showed his commitment to our nation's most vulnerable children and adolescents when he established the White House Task Force for Disadvantaged Youth and asked the Task Force to assess how Federal agencies might work more effectively to improve youth outcomes. I'm here today to discuss the Administration's progress in implementing the Task Force's final recommendations. I will also briefly discuss the President and the First Lady's most recent youth initiative - Helping America's Youth (HAY). HAY is aimed at highlighting effective youth programs and providing information to communities on how they can come together to implement the best strategies for addressing the challenges their young people are facing.

There is much good news to report on behalf of young Americans. Most of the 72 million children in this country are doing well. Within the context of their families and communities, they are being well-prepared to take on the responsibilities of adulthood - self-sufficiency, marriage and family, and civic engagement. More than two-thirds are living with two married parents. They feel connected to their parents and their schools, and these connections are helping them avoid behaviors that risk their current and future health and well-being. They are showing a commitment to their communities, with 27 percent of older teens volunteering to help in their neighborhoods or through service organizations.

However, while many American children and youth are thriving in their families and communities, there are still too many who are struggling and are at risk of not making the successful transition to adulthood. About 15 percent of American children live below the poverty level; these rates are almost twice as high for minority children. Some have families who are unable to provide a nurturing home with the structure and support required for healthy development. More than half a million children are living in foster care due to the inability of their families to provide a safe environment. About 1.5 million children had parents in State and Federal prisons. In 2003, just over 900,000 children were reported to have been abused or neglected. Each year, as many as one-and-a-half million children run away from home or find themselves on the streets and homeless.

Many of these difficult home and community environments contribute to adolescents engaging in risk taking behavior. Not living in a strong and nurturing family is probably one of the first predictors of poor outcomes. But even when families are functioning and capable, sometimes the problems they are attempting to address are simply beyond their capacity. The President believes every American has an opportunity to help children and youth in their families and communities to avoid trouble and lead more hopeful lives. Faith-based, community, and volunteer organizations across the Nation are involved in efforts to reach at-risk youth and get them involved in their communities. The President applauds their efforts while recognizing that the Federal government also plays an important role by pursuing policies that help the good works of these organizations.

In December of 2002, the President became concerned that the Federal agencies could be working more efficiently, individually and collectively, to develop and implement effective programs to help disadvantaged youth. This led him to establish the White House Task Force for Disadvantaged Youth.

White House Task Force for Disadvantaged Youth
The President appointed 11 Federal agencies to the Task Force and asked them to review all the existing Federal programs that touched youth, and to make recommendations as to where there could be enhanced agency accountability and effectiveness.

Goals for Youth
The President believes in outcomes-based policy. During their first meetings, Task Force members were asked to consider the outcomes they hoped to achieve for at-risk youth. It was evident to the members that while they were focusing on the needs of a very specific population, what we want for disadvantaged youth is what we want for all our children. We hope that they will grow up to be:

  • Healthy and Safe
  • Ready for Work, College and Military Service
  • Ready for Marriage, Family and Parenting
  • Ready for Civic Engagement and Service

Because there were so many Federal programs to review, the Task Force divided itself into subcommittees focusing on each of these outcomes. An additional subcommittee addressed issues related to research and accountability.

Task Force staff then conducted a survey of all the Federal agencies to identify any program that touched youth. Through this survey, staff identified that in FY 2002, there were 339 Federal programs that served or addressed issues relating to disadvantaged youth in some way. A total of 150 programs serve youth ages 0 to 21; 68 of those focus solely on school-age youth. The remaining 185 programs serve various ages of youth as well as adults; this can mean entire families, or adults who are working with youth. The programs were administered by 12 departments and agencies. Three departments, Health and Human Services, Justice, and Education, housed the bulk of the programs.

October 2003 Report Recommendations
Each subcommittee considered the programs that addressed their focal areas. Programs were reviewed to consider their alignment with the agencies' mission, their target populations, and the risky behaviors they hoped to avert. While they each looked at a different subset of programs, the committees ultimately came to similar conclusions: The best way to get the greatest outcomes for disadvantaged youth from the significant Federal funds invested was to focus on these four goals:

  • better management,
  • better accountability,
  • better connections and
  • priority to the neediest youth.

Progress on Recommendations
Since the completion of the report, we are pleased to report that much has been done to implement its recommendations. Progress has been made in all four areas, but since the bill being discussed today addresses coordination, I will focus my comments on our efforts to improve interagency coordination, particularly around prioritizing the needs of disadvantaged youth.

The report recommended that interagency coordination should be accomplished around topic areas or special target populations. This is the approach we have taken to date and that we think is working well. The needs of young people, particularly disadvantaged youth, are complex. Just as we acknowledge that a well functioning support system for youth requires input from families, schools and communities, a well-functioning Federal youth policy often requires the resources and expertise of multiple agencies. However depending on the issue at hand, this may mean a different subset of agencies. For example, when we are addressing the issue of impact of television marketing on childhood obesity, we would involve the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), maybe even the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), but there may be no meaningful role for the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Let me give you a few example of how we are coordinating within the Administration to improve outcomes for specific populations of youth.

Foster Care Youth and Workforce Preparation
The Task Force identified as a priority the needs of youth aging out of foster care. I am pleased to report that the Department of Labor (DOL), in partnership with the HHS, the Department of Education (ED) and DOJ, has responded to this call by developing a national initiative to improve Federal, State and local services for these youth. Their joint goals are to develop new and innovative service approaches, to enhance the quality of services delivered, and to improve program outcomes and efficiencies for youth who are commonly served across agency lines. Through a series of Regional Forums, these agencies convened 52 teams of program administrators from States and insular areas to identify opportunities for aligning services and creating ongoing strategies for improving programs across agency lines. Each team included representatives from the State workforce investment, education, juvenile justice and foster care agencies - many of whom had never before met together. This opportunity for discussion and interaction generated partnerships we hope these agencies will build over time.

Education and Out of School Youth
Another key area of focus is on providing more access to alternative education for out-of-school youth and outcome-based alternative education that is consistent with No Child Left Behind. The Department of Labor is developing a partnership with Department of Education to work on aligning efforts around alternative education, adolescent literacy and numeracy, and enhanced GED programs. Among other things, this partnership is exploring strategies for youth workforce development programs funded through the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), to support public school systems as they undertake the implementation of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation.

Education of Migrant Youth
ED, HHS, USDA, and Labor have formed an interagency team to address the education needs of migrant youth. The team has developed a proposal for a demonstration project that would allow for enrollment of migrant out-of-school youth in education programs at various locations along the migrant stream. This proposal is being finalized and soon the departments will publish a concept paper that details the demonstration in the Federal Register for public review and comment.

Youth Offenders and Workforce Preparation
DOL has recently announced several other reforms that aim to more effectively and efficiently serve out-of-school and at-risk youth through the workforce investment system by focusing on four major areas. The strategic vision underlying these initiatives specifically targeted to youth offenders was developed in partnership with ED, HHS and DOJ. Examples include: helping youth offenders improve reading and math skills, building partnerships between the public workforce system, business and industry representatives, the juvenile justice system, and education and training providers, including faith-based and community organizations.

Trafficking
The Administration has become very concerned about the issue of human trafficking. We are seeing a strong coordinated effort between HHS, DOJ and, now, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on juvenile trafficking in particular. While HHS provides humanitarian assistance to trafficking victims, DOJ prosecutes traffickers, and DHS (and the FBI) are usually the lead investigative agency uncovering and developing trafficking cases. The structure of the effort is such that whoever "first" uncovers trafficking cases coordinates with the other agencies to ensure that the statute's requirements related to both law enforcement and humanitarian assistance are followed.

Coordination Around Specific Topics
But our coordination efforts are not limited to the needs of specific youth populations. There are issues that affect the entire youth population and require the attention of multiple agencies. For example:

The Impact of Marketing on Childhood Obesity:
HHS is working with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to examine issues around marketing of food and beverages to children in light of child health concerns, including the rise in childhood obesity. HHS and the FTC will jointly sponsor a workshop to examine various perspectives on marketing, self-regulation, and childhood obesity. The workshop will bring together representatives from food and beverage companies, media and entertainment companies, medical and nutrition experts, consumer groups, advertising specialists, and other key experts for an open discussion on industry self-regulation concerning the marketing of food and beverages to children, as well as initiatives to educate children and parents about nutrition.

These are just some examples of the way we are coordinating our Federal efforts to help youth. I have focused on where the Federal agencies have been working together, but they have also each been working individually to implement activities responding to all four of the areas in which the Task Force issued recommendations. In particular, there have been great efforts to improve the quality and comprehensiveness of our Federal research on youth and youth programs. The President is committed to our better understanding and supporting what works for youth and not supporting programs that have been shown to be ineffective.

Monitoring the Federal Youth Efforts
The Domestic Policy Council has periodically held meetings to monitor the progress the agencies have made on the Report recommendation. In addition, the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has selected thirteen of the Task Force recommendations and made them the work of the Council. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (JJDP) Act of 1974 established the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (Council) as an independent body within the Executive branch of the Federal Government. The Council's primary function is to provide interdepartmental coordination of Federal juvenile delinquency prevention programs, Federal programs and activities that detain or care for unaccompanied juveniles, and Federal programs relating to missing and exploited children.

Helping America's Youth
The release of the Task Force report did not mark the end of our Federal efforts at coordination or the President's concern about helping disadvantaged youth. Most recently, the President and Mrs. Bush launched the Helping America's Youth Initiative. This initiative seeks to highlight effective community based programs in the three most important parts of children's and teens' lives: their families, schools and communities.

The First Lady has been touring the country visiting community, school and faith-based programs and will culminate her tour with a conference in the Fall, in which researchers, program and community leaders will highlight what works to help improve youth outcomes. At this conference she will unveil the Community Guide to Helping America's Youth. The guide (or the tool, as we have come to call it) is being developed collaboratively by seven Departments. It will provide information on youth development and community partnerships, as well as highlighting programs that have shown research-based evidence that are helping youth. It will help communities build partnerships, assess their needs and resources and select the best programs to help their children and adolescents. The development of the HAY tool has been a great example of how the agencies can be most productive when they collaborate around a well-specified objective.

Conclusion
I thank you for your interest in the coordination of youth programs. I know we share a vision of the goals we have for American youth. I hope we can continue to work together to make this vision a reality.

Last Revised: July 14, 2005