Given the very real fiscal crises facing our communities’ and national economies right now, hard decisions are having to be made. There is travesty inherent in these choices, as budgets for childrens’ health insurance, teen pregnancy prevention, education, immunizations, and many other programs essential to meeting the essential rights of children are being cut or completely dismantled. These cuts will be among the first made, and I will say unequivocally that those cuts are ill-informed and misguided. Other programs are being cut, too. As President Obama called for, programs that have grown bloated on excess government funds are being called into questions for their effectiveness and apparent inability to create the change they were supposed to. Today I’m calling for a new measure of what efficacy actually is in youth programs.
For too long we’ve measured by youth programs by simplistic quantitative measures: number of participants served, amount of attendance, number of activities, and summaries of qualitative evaulations of activities. I have found that even when qualitative data is asked for it amounts to overly-simplistic or largely irrelevant markers in the lives of children and youth. We need new data points. I believe the programs that serve children and youth should be measured largely from the perspectives of children and youth. Not the outcomes of the programs on children and youth, but the perceptions of those young people participating themselves. Sure, other data can be collected as well, particularly in programs that have deliberative ends in mind that directly impact the larger community in addition the children and youth. However, any program that serves young people has an ethical obligation to wiegh those participants’ perspectives as much, if not more, than anyone else.
If funders, including government agencies, private foundations and individual donors, insisted on this type of radical transformation schools and programs would be forced to respond. Their response could only lead to the creation of new approaches to successfully serving children and youth. Those adaptations are vital, and we must make spaces for them to happen. Its time for youth to evaluate youth programs.