In 1999, Washington State taxpayers paid over $54,000 to house one juvenile for one year in a detention facility, according to figures from the Department of Juvenile Justice. In addition, Washington taxpayers annually support the consequences of teen pregnancies, school dropouts, unemployment, and juvenile violence that did not result in incarceration.
This points to the urgent need for effective prevention and intervention programs aimed at Washingtons youth in order to assure a positive future for them and for all Washington State citizens. Washington State University Cooperative Extension is delivering precisely these types of programs.
4-HA Successful History of Youth Development
4-H, a youth development program, has a nearly 100-year history of successful youth development helping Washington States young people develop to their fullest potential. In 1999, more than 85,000 of the states youth were involved in life skill education through 4-H, making 4-H the largest youth development program in Washington.
Life skills education is the transfer of skills, knowledge, and abilities that lead to a productive and satisfying adult life. Youth development is a process of mental, physical, and social growth during which young people prepare to live within the customs and regulations of their society.
4-H provides educational opportunities through which youth can learn information and develop the skills they need. The 4-H Youth Development Program emphasizes 35 life skills including: leadership, responsible citizenship, critical thinking, problem solving, decision making, conflict resolution, respecting others, and communication. These directly contribute to the successful transition of young people into productive adults.
WSUs 4-H Program is involved in partnerships throughout Washington via its volunteer network. Last year, 8,615 adult 4-H volunteers contributed over 1.8 million hours of volunteer service to Washington State youth. If that service had been provided by paid staff, it would have cost $26,694,000. In addition to the fiscal impact, the young persons sense of personal value was increased because an adult cared enough to give his or her free time to support that young persons growth. A literature review of research identifying the factors of successful transition from adolescence to productive adulthood notes that the single overriding factor for success is the connection of a youth with a caring, mentoring adult.
A 1992 report by the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development states, Many strengths characterize existing community-based youth development programs. These strengths include tradition, durability, commitment, credibility, diversity, wide-spread support and extensive reach.
These characteristics of effective out-of-school time programs are truly strengths in the 4-H Youth Development Program with its 98-year history of youth centered programming reaching every county in the state. 4-H enjoys community credibility and its programs and methods are attractive to young people and their families.
Regrettably, not all Washington State youth have access to a positive relationship with a caring, mentoring adult. As recent violent acts committed by young people upon other young people demonstrate, many of our youth are disengaged, disconnected, and disenfranchised from their peers, families, and communities. In fact, 1997 figures from the Washington Department of Juvenile Justice reported that the juvenile arrest rate averaged 142 youth per day in the state.
In an attempt to reach these youth and stop others from joining their ranks, Washington State University is seeking additional funding from the Washington State legislature to increase the size and scope of its current out-of-school time programs.
Currently, Cooperative Extension has a statewide network of 20 county-based faculty and 23 county staff who form a team with four extension specialists on WSUs Pullman campus. These specialists are housed in the College of Agriculture and Home Economics Department of Human Development.
Were Making a Difference
One example of the power of this network is the C.O.P.Y. Kids after-school program in the Larson neighborhood of Moses Lake. C.O.P.Y. stands for Community Opportunities and Programs for Youth. The program features a partnership between 4-H and the schools and community groups of the Larson neighborhood to provide a safe and fun educational environment for local youth. Program evaluations indicate that youth increased their skills in teamwork and conflict resolution while also increasing their ability to communicate more effectively.
Grant County sheriffs records indicated that for seven months after the start of the C.O.P.Y. Kids program, there was a 47 percent decrease in juvenile problems in the Larson neighborhood as compared with the seven months prior to the programs start.
The success of this program has helped secure resources to expand this effort. WSU Cooperative Extension Grant County has recently received funding from a State Incentive Grant to establish youth out-of-school time programs in Warden, Soap Lake, Quincy, and Grand Coulee.
Another program that has received a lot of attention is the Youth After Hours (YAH) after school program in Cowlitz County. This program focuses on low income neighborhoods where many parents have had unsuccessful school careers. The YAH program is a partnership with the school district, community organizations, young people, their parents, and is led by Cooperative Extension.
In this program, youth participate in educational and fun activities after school until 6pm. A typical afternoon would consist of a nutritious snack that the youth may have learned to make; an opportunity for active recreation; a specific, non-formal educational activity; and unstructured time to read, play, do homework, or explore new activities, all connected with adult mentors. The three-and-a-half hours after school ends and before adults return home, is the time of day when young people are most frequently left unsupervised and, therefore, most likely to become involved in destructive and/or dangerous activities. The Youth After Hours program provides a positive, caring site in existing school facilities where young people are mentored by WSU-trained volunteers.
Participating youth are succeeding better in their class work at school, both socially and academically, and their parents have a much more positive attitude about the school and are even volunteering to support the school. This program received an award from the DeWitt-Wallace Foundation for its excellence in mentoring low-income, disadvantaged, middle school youth.
The Urban 4-H Out-of-School Time Initiative
Were now ready for the next step in 4-Hs ongoing effort to improve the lives of Washington youth. This step is a joint legislative funding initiative being proposed by Washington State University Cooperative Extension in collaboration with WSUs College of Education. The proposal is for $1.9 million per year for two years for a total of $3.8 million in new state funds to be invested in the 4-H Youth Development Program to provide strengthened educational outreach to an additional 70,000 urban youth through the work of 1,200 recruited and trained adult volunteers. Program participants will also receive the help of peer mentors recruited and trained by Cooperative Extension.
The entire annual cost of this proposal is less than what it costs to keep 36 juveniles in jail or prison for one year in Washington State. And, with the daily juvenile arrest rate cited earlier (142 per day), the cost savings of prevention versus detention are dramatically apparent.
The mission of Cooperative Extension is to train community-based professionals and volunteers in youth life skill development. The result of this funding initiative will be a community network of support where young people are connected with their communities and communities are connected with their young people. These connections end the disengagement, isolation, and disenfranchisement experienced by some youth.
There are many studies that identify factors associated with risk-taking behaviors. These are risks which threaten the successful transition of a young person into productive adulthood. There is also a body of resiliency literature that identifies protective factors such as positive social skills, regular involvement in community activities and family cohesion. Despite a myriad of attempts focused on reducing risk behaviors, few successes have been reported. An alternative approach is to strengthen protective factors, such as the presence of a caring adult guide and mentor who can dramatically contribute to a youths development. A recent national research study concludes that a strong, positive relationship exists between adolescents having a caring adult mentor and that adolescents decreased participation in four out of the five risky behaviors evaluated.
Washington State University Cooperative Extension and the College of Education are ready to begin a strengthened community collaboration effort through the Urban 4-H Out-Of-School Time budget request. By strengthening WSUs capacity to be a community partner in youth development, WSU will be able to seize emerging opportunities, initiatives, and partnerships that are denied by the existing level of funding.
WSUs 4-H program needs to build its human and resource capital to reach more of Washingtons young people with meaningful youth development activities. The Urban 4-H Out-of-School Time budget request seeks to add ten faculty FTEs in our states most urban areasCentral Puget Sound (Snohomish, King, Pierce), Spokane, Clark, and Yakima counties, and the Tri-Cities area (Richland, Pasco, Kennewick)for strengthening and enhancing out-of-school time activities for youth.
Additionally, one faculty member will be added to the Human Development Department for Extension program support. The ten field faculty (six in youth and four in parenting) will form action teams with statewide coordination through the specialist position.
The proposal also includes two faculty in the College of Education to strengthen the outreach and partnership capacity of its K-12 school initiative and Partnership Center to serve teachers, other school professionals, and children in the communities. Through the increased capacity of the College of Education and the College of Agriculture and Home Economics, Washington State University would clearly be the states leader in comprehensive youth development.
The faculty positions would be enhanced by the development of matching funds from community partners such as the cities of Seattle and Everett for special outreach staff. Washington 4-H has been successful in securing federal grants to support youth in rural areas through the State Strengthening and Bridging the Gap of Isolation grants. However, in order for WSU to seize emerging opportunities for urban funding, additional resources are required. In the very near future, block grants for strengthening youth programs will become available. 4-H must be adequately funded to seize these opportunities. Additionally, curriculum is necessary to support the work of the action teams throughout the state. New curriculum and materials would be required for its statewide implementation.
The result of the 4-H Out-of-School Time Program will be:
- WSU faculty recruiting and training 1,200 adult volunteers, multiplying that training effect to 70,000 young people over five years with positive life skill development education.
- 70,000 young people will be better prepared to be positive contributing members of their communities.
- 4-H-led community collaborations will result in reduced juvenile crime in partner communities.
Washington State Universitys 4-H Youth Development Program, in collaboration with the College of Education, is well-positioned to implement the strong human development research and teaching base of the university in all the states communities. Now is the time to press forward and position WSU as Washington States premiere youth development university. Without immediate action to create the community partnerships for positive youth development during out-of-school time, the opportunity will be lost to create caring, capable, and contributing citizens for Washingtons future.