On March 1, we attended the Illinois Collaboration on Youth (ICOY) Advocacy Day in Springfield in order to present to both legislators and advocates, for the first time ever, a complete analysis or “fiscal scan” of the state’s investments in older youth. This scan takes a new approach to the state budget, organizing it by goals for youth, rather than individual state agencies. Illinois’ 3.2 million youth ages 8-25 need an interconnected web of support in order to be stable, safe, healthy, educated, employable, and connected citizens. We view this fiscal scan as the first step toward getting us there; by taking an in depth look at where Illinois’ funds are currently invested.

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The fiscal scan allowed us to explore the state’s investments as they are directed toward specific positive outcomes for older youth. We found that of the state’s total budget of $61.8 billion, approximately 10%, or $6.2 billion, directly impact youth ages 8-25. We also learned that the majority of investments are directed toward keeping youth stable (52%) and educated (41%), while less than 1% of funds are directed toward keeping youth safe in their communities. When we examined how the budget lined up with various service approaches, we found that treatment and intervention (56%), followed by prevention services (31%), comprised most of the investments.

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We presented an overview of the scan information to approximately 40 ICOY members at the Policy Forum and engaged in a lively conversation about what this means for our work and the kids we serve. We learned that while the fiscal scan provides us with a snapshot of where public funds are going, we need more information in order to truly understand the numbers. Is $6.2 billion adequate? Is it not enough? Why is the investment in safety so small compared to others, especially at a time when the media seems to be full of stories about community violence? What would these numbers look like now – after a two year budget impasse and cuts to many of the programs included in this scan? Not all youth share the same experiences or paths to adulthood – so how can we ensure that funds are distributed equitably, providing more support where needed and through the most effective approaches?

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One thing we do know is that the state of Illinois, funders and service providers must approach support for older youth comprehensively and collaboratively and move away from a traditional focus on individual programs or departments. Illinois must also develop a system to track these investments over time, compare them to program outcomes, and make data publicly available. These efforts, along with a mobilized community committed to the premise that all youth can thrive, will help ensure that Illinois citizens reach their highest potential by age 25, becoming self-sufficient, thriving adults who give back to their communities.

Visit our Policy Center page to learn more about Illinois public investments in children and youth.