The Ready by 21 Coalition in Austin, Texas began with a Youth Issues Forum convened by Austin’s planning council, the Community Action Network (CAN), and the workforce development board, Workforce Solutions Capital Area, under the auspices of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). Workforce Solutions Capital Area has sponsored the effort since inception by providing facilitation and project coordination.
Even though WIA is a workforce law, it recognizes the importance of youth development beyond and leading to career awareness and preparation. While there were many effective youth development organizations in Austin, and many coalitions working on separate initiatives, there was no group or structure to put it all together. Service providers and community members were frustrated that their efforts didn’t seem to be adding up.
In that first meeting in 2003, representatives of more than 20 participating organizations identified a common vision. They felt it essential to take an inclusive, holistic and asset-based approach to youth development and to focus on coordinating systems to be more effective.
The group set two main priorities: to establish a comprehensive continuum of services and supports so that young people would be prepared for successful futures, and to develop a sustainable network to engage stakeholders. The Continuum Team and the Stakeholder Engagement Team formed and the group began meeting monthly with a general session for reporting on progress, and breakout sessions for the work teams.
When the Continuum Team tried to tackle its task, they realized they needed some way to organize the very messy world of agencies and services for children and youth. Members researched possible frameworks and in Fall 2003, the Forum for Youth Investment’s Ready by 21 Dashboard was adopted to guide Austin’s work and Ready by 21 Austin was born.
The coalition officially agreed to become the planning council’s “go to” group on youth issues in 2004.
The Coalition (using one member as fiscal agent) applied to be part of the Forum for Youth Investment’s Quality Counts initiative. In addition to implementation of the Youth Program Quality Initiative, the Quality Counts challenge also provided the opportunity to build consensus on a set of priority outcomes and indicators of child and youth well-being. Ready by 21 Austin held multiple work sessions, engaging more than 100 people from more than 60 agencies in selecting the top fifteen outcomes, and indicators to measure them.
United Way for Greater Austin and the CAN collected data and, working with issue-specific coalitions and agencies that committed to organize other partners to work together to improve specific indicators, built an online indicators dashboard to track progress over time. Having a common set of outcomes and indicators for children and youth is helping to link and leverage the work of numerous agencies and initiatives toward common goals.
Priority Outcomes for Child and Youth Well-Being
- Born healthy
- Connected to nurturing adults
- Kindergarten ready
- Physically healthy
- Physically safe
- Respect diversity and demonstrate empathy and pro-social behaviors
- Engaged in school, community and/or extracurricular activities
- Demonstrate personal & social responsibility
- Good mental health/ emotionally resilient
- Avoid risky behaviors
- Academically successful
- Aware & positive about adult careers
- Graduate from high school college & career ready
- Successfully complete post-secondary education & training
- Productive/equipped to reach financial self-sufficiency
Outcomes and indicators were refined by a CAN group consisting of public agency and funder representatives.
United Way for Greater Austin published the Ready By 21 Priority Outcomes and Indicators for Youth in Austin/Travis County report, and the Steering Group on Children and Youth was formed. Partner coalitions in this group were asked to commit to taking on the organizing role to improve indicators related to their chosen issues. Steering Group representatives worked with their coalitions to interpret information and “tell the story” behind their respective indicators using a common template.
The online Ready By 21 Dashboard was published.
Ready By 21 Steering Group members reconvened to update the online Ready By 21 Dashboard, and a Dashboard Redesign team worked to re-organize the visual look and content of the online Ready By 21 Dashboard, organizing outcomes and indicators into four major areas as a method to enable more streamlined communications to tell the story of how children and youth are doing in Central Texas. The purpose of the Ready By 21 Steering Group was more specifically defined as: (1) maintaining the online Dashboard; (2) telling the story of children and youth in Central Texas for the benefit of a variety of stakeholders; and (3) providing recommendations for consideration by area leaders as they make decisions regarding policy and major initiatives.