From the Office of State Senator Royce West - District 23

For Immediate Release
February 18, 2003

Community youth programs provide an ounce of cure

by Royce West
Texas Senate

Too many times we are captured by news depictions telling us - in sometimes gory detail - of the misdeeds of our youth. Each of us know at least one story of a young person who because of poor choices, made a mistake that will forever alter their lives.

We know the reasons and there are many. Poverty, peer pressure, single-parent homes and neighborhoods that seem to breed criminal activity, are just a few of the challenges that must be overcome if a child is to successfully navigate the path to adulthood. And our youth nearly always require careful guidance along that path.

Community Youth Development (CYD) programs were designed to be that guiding hand. CYD programs were created by the Texas Legislature in 1995 during the 74th Legislative Session. Their purpose is in developing community-based programs that will provide positive choices to youth who due to societal reasons, could be considered "at-risk" of becoming involved in the juvenile justice system.

One of Benjamin Franklin's proverbs spoke to the value of an ounce of prevention. And prevention is at the heart of CYD programs. Having made statistical note of various areas of the state that show the highest incidence of juvenile crime, Texas, through the Department of Protective and Regulatory Services, instituted a different approach in addressing the situation.

Grants were created for neighborhood-based services that would provide healthy and productive alternatives for our most precious commodity, our youth.

Today's generation of young people are faced with an ever-growing set of choices and challenges. But it has been found that the most critical time for our young people can be isolated to a particular period of the day. It is the hours between 3 p.m and 7 p.m. That's the time after school has ended, but before parents have arrived home from work when some of our kids are left to their own devices. It's four hours of unstructured time - literally a grain of sand in life's hour glass - that become conducive to good or bad choices whose ramifications can last an eternity.

Through community support, CYD programs have been shown a safe and effective bridge to more positive outcomes. Programs now operating in Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio, Austin, El Paso and nine other Texas cities have demonstrated results in improving school attendance and performance and in reducing referrals to juvenile authorities. Their locations are determined by targeting ZIP Codes where juvenile crime and delinquency are far too prevalent.

CYD programs work like this. Community meetings are held by program managers where constituents are asked to identify problems and services desired within their neighborhoods. Local steering committees are formed, comprised of community volunteers. Those desired services are then contracted through the development of a network of community-based providers selected by the committee.

These providers, community-based vendors, sometimes church or civic organizations, provide services such as after-school, tutorial and life-skills development programs. CYD programs sponsor athletic leagues, music classes and computer training. Participating youth attend field trips and engage in other cultural activities. These organized activities provide structured and creative outlets that may otherwise be unavailable. They prove true the African proverb of the village helping to raise the child.

Here's another way to judge the effectiveness of Community Youth Development programs. Over the next few months, the Texas Legislature will be in session. You will hear and read volumes about this state's projected and real budget shortfall. In fiscal year 2001, $7.3 million was spent on CYD preventative programming that served more than 19,400 Texas youth at a cost of $376 per child. A year's stay at a Texas Youth Commission institutional facility cost taxpayers $74,000 in FY 2000.

Like it or not you are already involved. How can you become more actively involved? Each year, community meetings are held and new members are sought for program steering committees. Announcements of these meetings appear in community newspapers or may come to you by mail. If not, don't let that stop you. Contact your local state elected official or the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services.

Remember, it's our village. "Children are like trees, they grow in whatever direction we point them." And "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."