Foundation To Aid Joint Efforts for 'At Risk' Youths

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To address the rising dropout rate among the state's high-school students, public and private agencies in Oregon have independently focused their efforts over the years on alternative-education and training programs for "at-risk" young people--those troubled teenagers least ready for the world of work.

In Oregon, as in states across the nation, that population has been growing steadily. In 1972, according to statistics released this month by the U.S. Education Department, it ranked 26th among the states in its proportion of dropouts, with a rate of 20 percent; by 1982, its dropout rate had climbed to 28 percent and it ranked 35th among the states.

Now, however, Oregon officials are developing a new strategy that will focus more attention on such young people and target state resources more effectively to solve their job-training problems.

State leaders have decided to assume more responsibility for the development and administration of such programs, and officials from various public agencies and private organizations have committed themselves to work cooperatively to prevent duplication of services.

Because of its interest in that kind of statewide coordination, Oregon has been selected as one of three states to participate in a demonstration project, developed by Public/Private Ventures, a Philadelphia-based research and program-development firm, that will encourage inter-agency planning to provide education and training programs for "at-risk" youths, or those who are identified as potential dropouts.

The project, called State Employment Initiatives for Youth, will be supported over the next two years by a $1.4-million grant from the Ford Foundation. Training programs are to be created by pooling the resources and capabilities of a variety of state and private agencies, according to Thomas J. Smith, director of state programs for Public/Private Ventures.

Recent studies have suggested that employment and training programs for disadvantaged youths have been successful in dealing with record-high unemployment among teenagers, which federal officials have called one the nation's most serious social problems.

The project, Mr. Smith said, is particularly timely because the new federal Job Training Partnership Act places heavy emphasis on the coordination of education and training efforts at state and local levels. ''One of the big messages out of the [federal statute], other than states' new role, is that they have to coordinate education and job-training resources a lot better" than they did under the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, he said.

The Ford Foundation, which has traditionally supported programs directed at disadvantaged youths and youth-employment problems, became interested in the project, according to Gordon Berlin, Ford's program officer, because it attempts "to encourage the states to design more rational and comprehensive systems" for serving young people.

"There was a lack of coordination previously in the employment and training community," Mr. Berlin asserted. Those involved in youth programs, he said, "tended to work in competing and separate areas, and what was needed was better coordination" in the development of a model system.

Under the model developed by Public/Private Ventures, Oregon, Massachusetts, and South Carolina are to establish youth-coordination councils to administer training programs. But before those programs begin, each state council will collect baseline data, ascertain the needs of the target population, and devise a strategy for meeting those needs. The council will also be responsible for setting program priorities and developing a process for identifying exemplary training programs.

By next November, the council will again conduct an assessment of its efforts and make any modifications it considers necessary. In March 1985, it will prepare for a second round of exemplary training programs, according to Mr. Smith.

Before the pilot program ends in January 1986, Mr. Smith explained, the research-and-development firm plans to disseminate the results of the demonstration program.

In working with the three states, Mr. Smith said, "we've tried not to be too specific because those are the kinds of decisions the states are going to have to make," and they will have to make them long after the pilot program has concluded. It is important that "we let them work out the practical problems," he added.

Another factor in the firm's decision to limit its role in the states' decision-making, according to Mr. Smith, is that "the states are making a significant contribution of their own money to the effort."

Each of the three states has agreed to commit between $400,000 and $500,000 toward the program. "The focus here is that the state is developing its own capacity to do more with what it already has," Mr. Smith explained.

More than 20 states were initially considered for the project, Mr. Smith said. But the states chosen were selected because of their interest, their perception of the problem at hand, and their ability to carry out the program's objectives, he explained.

In Massachusetts, state officials expect to produce a statewide policy on youth employment, according to Paul Osterman, director for planning, policy, and research for the Office of Economic Affairs. "There are an awful lot of people involved in youth employment in the state, and we're going to see if we can pull them all together," he said.

"I think this provides the spark to get it going," Mr. Osterman added.

Nita Crimins, director of job-development and training services for the Oregon Department of Education, which has been designated as the lead agency in the state's efforts, said that each of the 13 members on the council has previously been involved in programs for the targeted population. But as representatives of various groups, "we are becoming more closely linked," she said.

"We're not trying to create new programs," Ms. Crimins explained. ''We're taking a look at existing programs and making them work better."

Vol. 03, Issue 18, Page 15

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