Hi! I’m Afterschool Andy, here to help you answer the tough questions that come up for child and youth development professionals. Maybe you’re not sure if you handled a situation with a youth in the best way, or you need career advice, or are confused by Washington State policy. Don’t let my name limit your questions – I’m experienced in out-of-school time, youth development, summer programs and more!
DEAR AFTERSCHOOL ANDY:
Your first column on shared use agreements got me thinking. Without established relationships, it can be difficult for organizations to work together to achieve common goals. What are some practical ways to establish those relationships and build the trust necessary to work together effectively?
Please Advise – Really, Truly Need Established Relationships
You might be surprised by the unorthodox approach used in Clark County: playing cards. By putting together a monthly poker night, one school administrator was able to bring together people from a variety of disciplines: schools, police, afterschool programs, etc. By gathering for fun, food and drinks outside the professional realm, everyone was able to let their guards down and get to know each other better on a personal level. It didn’t take long to see the effects: stronger relationships led to increased trust, which led to better communication, information sharing, and collaboration among agencies.
Joe Walsh of the Safe Communities Task Force in Vancouver, WA told this story at the Association of Washington Cities annual conference this June. He also shared this story of further collaboration in Clark County:
On the first day of classes in 2008, a gang fight involving 50 students erupted at a high school in Vancouver. The district’s director of security was left searching for answers. Around the same time, a probation counselor for the Clark County Juvenile Court was struggling to find resources for the gang-involved youth on her caseload. Sharing their frustrations, the two of them took action by assembling a team of colleagues from schools, juvenile justice, law enforcement, Boys & Girls Clubs, and others. Some of the folks in this group already had strong personal relationships through the card games. The Safe Communities Task Force (SCTF) was born.
Operating under the assumption that gang activity is a symptom of other problems, the SCTF has been the driving force behind a number of gang prevention and intervention strategies during its five year existence. Early on, the group focused its attention to providing gang training and awareness to parents and other community members. With a budget of zero dollars, the SCTF planned a full-day conference titled “What Kids Know and Parents Wish They Did” complete with a keynote speaker, door prizes, and a free lunch. More than 100 parents came to that first event. Since then, the group has been instrumental in the creation of several other programs including an alternative school for expelled students (many of whom are gang-involved) and a “Gang Intervention Team” that provides multi-disciplinary case management for gang-involved youth.
Surprisingly, all of this progress has been made without a dedicated funding source for gang prevention and intervention. The key has been the diversity of agencies involved and their willingness to collaborate. For example, when space has been needed for meetings or conferences, it has been the Boys & Girls Clubs, the schools, and the YWCA that have opened their doors. When staff expertise has been needed to provide trainings, the juvenile court, schools, and law enforcement agencies have stepped up to the plate. And when funding has been necessary for implementation of new programs, our partner agencies have either reallocated resources within their budgets or worked together to jointly apply for grant funding.
Although gang problems in Clark County have not disappeared since the formation of the Safe Communities Task Force, the group may be credited for preventing the kind of full-blown gang crisis that other communities have experienced in recent years. And as other communities face shrinking budgets and growing problems like gang violence, it is likely that increased collaboration, resource sharing and innovative problem solving will become increasingly common.
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