Centering Youth in Policy and Decision-Making

The continuum of education is a pathway that can be filled with opportunity — or one that can perpetuate learning challenges. Heritage University’s Cradle to Career community is exploring what is possible when we center children and youth in policy and decision-making.
Suzy Diaz

Suzy Diaz

Director of Collective Impact, Yakima Valley Partners for Education

If you haven’t heard the term “Cradle to Career” before, it is a practice of aligning with others through shared purpose and systems change to improve educational outcomes from prenatal to age 26 through key milestones across education continuum to career pathways. We use data to assess points along the continuum that need attention, and areas that are working especially well. Why would an institution of higher education want to start with data on prenatal supports? We know students succeed at a higher rate when they enter college well prepared. And we can trace that preparedness through a network of community and educational support all the way to childhood. That’s why we are building partnerships and formed Yakima Valley Partners for Education, a Cradle to Career initiative.  

Together, our vision is to create equitable systems and partnerships that mindfully allocate resources needed for communities to thrive. The impacts of budget and policy decisions have been felt across rural communities in ways that include funding limitations and impact of non-taxable land, among others.  

As a result, we aim to collaborate with policymakers to deepen our collective understanding of the needs of children and youth through a cradle to career continuum.  This includes:

1. Aligning for Action. Inviting policy and decision makers to participate all along the cradle to career continuum to help meet the needs of the whole child and move us toward action and results. 

2. Using Data.  There is a need to have disaggregated data to inform decisions that support improving educational outcomes.  For example, fiscal data helps to quantify investments across the cradle to career continuum to better evaluate where there may be gaps or overlaps in funding. This helps us move into the practice of equitable funding that improve educational outcomes.  

3.  Beginning with the end in mind. To produce better outcomes at the farthest end of the continuum, we first must invest in early learning and childcare as stepping-stones.  

The Washington Cradle to Career Advocacy Network’s policy priorities are critical to our work in the Yakima Valley because they directly reflect the needs of local children and families as well of the needs of a nascent Cradle to Career partnership like ours. Our collective impact approach pursues results along this cradle to career continuum, not only through local programmatic partnerships with organizations serving children and families across a range of sectors but also through strategies to influence policies that impact our partners and those they serve. 

For example, we partnered with Save the Children, a national nonprofit focused on ensuring all children in rural America have a healthy, strong foundation to thrive as learners and in life. Together, we have aligned programmatic resources to our work in the form of three Early Learning Coordinators placed in the Grandview School District, serving 150 children through home visiting, book bag exchanges, and various resource distributions. Yet, despite the contributions of Save the Children and others, our strategies to support exceptional early learning outcomes are incomplete without supportive policies that ensure access, appropriateness, affordability and quality of early childhood education opportunities in our community.

 

Likewise, with regard to the needs of our burgeoning partnership, we rely on the contributions of local cross-sector stakeholders as well as policies that foster holistic and collaborative efforts to support children. While we have obtained catalytic financial and technical investments from partners and established a Leadership Council to launch our work, we recognize that strong advocacy for policies like those prioritized by the WA C2C Advocacy Network are essential in centering continued support for the needs of the whole child cradle to career.

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