San Diego Youth Development Office (YDO) is an intermediary organization driving systems and policy changes that improve health, education and employment outcomes for children and young adults ages 0–24 in San Diego County. YDO provides expertise, data, technical assistance, services and products that support positive youth development by focusing primarily on prevention.
“Every young person deserves the opportunity to thrive and succeed,” says YDO Director Ian Gordon. “There is a baseline of opportunity that all children and young adults should have access to and it shouldn’t be determined by where they live, their race or how much money their parents make.”
YDO addresses that inequity by recognizing the pivotal activities, situations and barriers young people face and mitigating them with access to services and opportunities. One example would be disconnection from education — an activity that leads to low-wage jobs and chronic unemployment. YDO collaborates with the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) to find ways to keep students in school and avoid the snowball effect of dropping out. The answer is to look at children and young adults holistically. “It’s not just about failing math and English,” Gordon says. YDO points to underlying barriers (e.g. trauma, homelessness, food insecurity, poverty and other hardships) and the necessary opportunities that promote resilience to overcome them (e.g. mentoring, case management services, alternative educational options, paid internships, etc.). YDO is focused on influencing policy and funding to bring about more and better programming and services available for all children and young adults in the county.
“Our goal is to influence the breakdown of the siloing of services because young people’s lives aren’t siloed or compartmentalized,” says Gordon, sharing that the recent San Diego Youth Opportunity Pathways Reengagement pilot program is a good example of that. Utilizing a collective impact framework, SDUSD and San Diego Workforce Partnership (SDWP) collaborated to fund and provide mentoring and case management services for youth at risk of dropping out of high school and recent dropouts. Through the program’s holistic model, one mentor was able to recognize a student’s chronic absenteeism, pinpoint the cause (care responsibilities for an ill parent) and arrange for social services (translation and medical transportation) to allow him to be back in class on a regular basis. Within a few semesters, his grade point average went up two points. He has since graduated and plans to continue his education to become a journalist. “It’s hard for most families to navigate the maze of services,” says Gordon. “It took someone who was looking more holistically at the situation, saying, ‘If I don’t take care of this barrier he/she will never achieve their full potential,’ to give him an opportunity for success.”
In addition to supporting policy, funding and best practices that help children and young adults thrive and succeed, YDO brings attention to the big-picture issues facing youth. The organization was the first regionally to start talking about the 53,000 opportunity youth, ages 16–24 in San Diego County who are not working and not in school. Often referred to as “at-risk” or “disconnected,” YDO has embraced the term opportunity youth in San Diego following the lead of the White House Council for Community Solutions during the Obama Administration. More important than the label, YDO has been a catalyst for conversation and action around re-engaging opportunity youth to education and employment opportunities. A direct result of this being a collaboration with SDWP, CONNECT2Careers, Jacob’s Center for Neighborhood Innovation and other organizations for the upcoming Flip the Script Youth Summit, which will explore how to do just that, and create a a regional action plan.