It’s been six years since local leaders came together with an aggressive goal: to alter the trajectory for Palm Beach County’s youth.
Six years of grappling with hard questions, like how to increase the likelihood that all children grow up in stable homes; provide mental health services to more youth; and reduce racial disparities.
Six years of knocking down silos between government and nonprofits, of honest discussions and ambitious summits.
And after six years, the collective impact alliance, called Birth to 22: United for Brighter Futures, continues to thrive – with more than 300 local organizations engaged and millions invested from Children’s Services Council, the county’s Youth Services Department and the School District and United Way, among others.
In the past six years, the collaborative has brought in grant funding to train 30 community partners who work with youth involved in both the dependency and delinquency systems. Our community also received a $6 million Wallace Foundation Grant to infuse social-emotional learning into our educational and after-school systems.
In the past six years, Birth to 22 has brought thousands of people together for numerous conferences and events to tackle the big issues facing our community – like mental health and trauma, racial equity, and youth development. These community-wide conversations have led to increased counseling services across the county, including in public schools. They’ve also led to introspection on how to level the playing field for all youth, particularly those of color.
In the past six years, Birth to 22 has connected groups doing parallel work to reduce redundancies and increase efficiencies. And the creation of the alliance’s Youth Master Plan eliminated the need for a separate, local plan required by the state Department of Juvenile Justice.
Now the Birth to 22 team is implementing hands-on policies and programs that make a difference – particularly in the areas of behavioral health, education and juvenile justice.
Additionally, we want to be sure young people and their families are at the forefront of these discussions. To this end, Birth to 22 created Future Leaders United for Change, providing a voice for youth (ages 11-22) in community leadership activities.
It won’t be easy to keep the momentum going – all while pursuing an equity agenda and bringing businesses, faith-based organizations, higher education and workforce experts into the fold. But with the community’s support, and Birth to 22 as the catalyst for collective change, the future of Palm Beach County’s youth looks brighter.
TAMMY FIELDS AND LISA WILLIAMS-TAYLOR, WEST PALM BEACH
Editor’s note: Fields is director of the Palm Beach County Youth Services Department, and Williams-Taylor is CEO of Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County.