Children’s Home + Aid Policy Manager Stefanie Polacheck and The Federation for Community Schools Director Melissa Mitchell joined hundreds of youth advocates from around the country at the 6th Annual Ready by 21 National Meeting held in Austin last week. Each year, the Ready by 21 National Meeting brings together hundreds of leaders from around the country who are working to get all young people ready by 21 – for college, work and life. These leaders have dedicated themselves to improving the odds for children and youth through collective impact initiatives, policy alignment and program quality improvement..

The Forum for Youth Investment works with state and local leaders and leadership groups to fundamentally change the way they do business for young people. We create this change together, through field-tested strategies that:

  • Strengthen state and local partnerships that focus on young people
  • Expand and improve learning opportunities for all youth
  • Align and advance policies and resources to make them more effective

Stefanie and Melissa presented on the role that external partners play in systems alignment at the state level. Building cross-system alignment at the state or municipal level can seem daunting, and the role that external partners can play often seems unclear. Using Illinois as an example, Stefanie and Melissa’s workshop took participants through the process that partners and governmental agencies undertook to create a Cabinet on Children & Youth and build a fiscal scan of investments in positive youth outcomes. Through experiences shared by partners, advocates and the Illinois Governor’s Office, Stefanie and Melissa shared with participants a perspective on how this cross-system work can change the way states align resources to better support children and youth – and why this structure made sense in Illinois – even as the state faces an ongoing budget crisis.

The workshop participants engaged in a lively conversation about how cross-system work can change the way we invest in children and youth. Two topics that emerged from that discussion that were particularly interesting were:

  • How alignment at the municipal/ county level can drive state alignment. In New Jersey, they’ve created county-level cabinet-like structures that include parent representatives and external partners. Each county council then has members that serve on a state-level council. This also raised the question of how a state-level cabinet might (or might not) incorporate or encompass existing county or municipal alignment efforts. In New Jersey, there’s intentionality around how the county councils are shaping and creating a state council (the same is true in Georgia). But in other states that want to develop cabinets at the state level, the question of how to navigate this when county-level councils already exist remains.
  • The importance of and some ideas around how to engage families and youth in cabinet efforts at all levels. A couple of participants specifically asked how a cabinet structured the way Illinois’ is (only state leaders) can hear from, learn from and accurately reflect the needs and priorities of families and youth.