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Youth Services Work Group

The Youth Services Work Group looks at social services that are available for Calhoun County youth, from birth to adulthood, and identifies gaps in service delivery. Made up of professionals from the juvenile justice system, the education system, the Department of Human Services, corporate and philanthropic organizations, and others, the group tries to identify and remove potential barriers for vulnerable youth to access needed services. 
Michigan Nightlight: What really differentiates the Youth Services Work Group from other initiatives or youth programs?
Executive Director of the Coordinating Council of Calhoun County and Youth Services Work Group Facilitator Anji Phillips: There are about 15 to 20 of us that meet every other month. What makes the group different is that the people in that room are the community’s movers and shakers: the decision-makers. They are CEOs, court administrators, large-scale program managers, and agency and organization directors -- people who are empowered to make and implement system change within the organizations that they represent. They are all very committed to help reconfigure services so that families can access what is available to them in the way of social services.
Some are political advocates and community advocates. Some can help fund programs through their organization’s
It's all about collective impact. Our group intentionally targets the issues that are the biggest problems for our area youth and comes up with solutions.
philanthropic efforts. Some are agency leaders who can directly implement the plans that we come up with. Some are able to help increase community awareness and engagement, by using data that we collect, to educate the public on the issues that surround our youth. Every single member of the Youth Services Work Group can help in some way. We provide a forum for strategic planning and systemic change.

What are the keys to success for your work group?
It’s all about collective impact. Our group intentionally targets the issues that are the biggest problems for our area youth and comes up with solutions. One example is the Truancy Diversion Group that we started for kids from Kindergarten to sixth grade who are in violation of our state’s compulsory school attendance policies [mandating that children can miss less than 10 days of school during the academic year].
We do a very comprehensive assessment with the families and the children to determine the barriers or the unmet needs that are preventing them from getting to school. If it’s a lack of bussing, we can help parents find ways to get their kids to school. These are kids under 11 years old, and at that age, it is a parent’s responsibility to make sure their child gets to school. Still, there are many reasons why this can’t happen. Maybe it’s a lack of communication that parents have with the school system. In that case, we can help mitigate. We maintain a solid partnership with the Calhoun County Intermediate School District to ensure strong student support. In certain situations, it turns out to be relationships within the family that are the issue, and in that case, we can connect them with available resources, like Community Mental Health, or other agencies.

What existing challenges remain? How do you plan to overcome them?
Our biggest challenge is the educational issues that our kids face. We have a high dropout rate, very low scores on standardized testing, and major attendance issues in Calhoun County. Some of the kids we help have missed so much school that they think they are too far behind to ever catch up.
We are going to keep helping facilitate educational remediation by putting tutors into place, by referring kids to community service organizations that can help, and by even paying for kids to go to places like Sylvan Learning Center for educational
Instead of telling our families what they should be doing, because we are the experts, we're really listening to our families' voices. We are asking them what we could do better and what they need from us.

How do you organize the resources that the Youth Services Work Group needs?
We have many funding sources, but we recently wrote a grant and received funds from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. It’s the first time that we have ever approached the foundation for help and we got it. We were thrilled. That was big.
We also work hard to find organizations that are willing to come forward with resources to help build more services for the families we serve, and we educate the public through the press and by providing as much educational information as we can. I have to say that we could do a much better job with social media marketing to get the word out, and we are working on that.

What was the best lesson learned in the past year?
The best lesson we learned is that we did not know half as much as we thought we did. We didn’t have great long-term investments: a lot of people didn’t finish programs like our Truancy Diversion Group. So, this year we started to look at issues, like school attendance problems and other educational issues, through a different lens.
We wanted to know why. Instead of telling our families what they should be doing, because we are the experts, we’re really listening to our families’ voices. We are asking them what we could do better and what they need from us. And we are making adjustments. 
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  • The Coordinating Council of Calhoun County
    The mission of The Coordinating Council of Calhoun County is to achieve optimum health of all people in Calhoun County by supporting economic self-sufficiency, healthy family and social relationships, and community connectedness.


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