CIVIC CENTER — City Hall released a report this week focusing on the factors impacting young people in Santa Monica, data that will provide a jumping off point for a new joint initiative meant to help all Santa Monica youth thrive.
The Youth Wellbeing Report Card is the first major product to come out of the Cradle-to-Career initiative, an effort launched in March after 18 months of planning with 30 agencies, including City Hall, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and Santa Monica College.
It pulls together data on 38 different indicators of wellness and breaks them down into four main categories: Physical Health & Development, Learning & School Achievement, Social Skills & Confidence and Emotional Maturity & Mental Health.
The information comes from a multiplicity of sources, including surveys on children conducted in schools and police records.
The effort is unprecedented, said Sandra Lyon, the superintendent at SMMUSD.
“I’ve been in education for 25 years, and I’ve never been in any community with that many people saying, ‘How can we share resources?’” Lyon said.
When it all came together, however, the report painted an occasionally unsettling picture of the challenges facing Santa Monica’s young people.
According to the report, only 28.6 percent of kids are considered “very socially ready” to enter kindergarten, a number which goes up or down depending on which Santa Monica zip code the child hails from and what race they are.
That study, which was conducted with UCLA, showed disparities between kindergarteners across the board, with students identified as Asian, white or of two races generally posting higher “readiness” figures in the categories of physical health, ability to communicate, social preparedness and emotional preparedness than their African-American and Latino counterparts.
The report showed a consistent gap in achievement between the same students when it came to school subjects, and a similar problem existed between low- and high-income groups.
A quarter of district children reported a significant period of “extreme sadness and hopelessness” over the previous year and almost 30 percent said that they had used alcohol in the last month.
That figure was considerably higher for high school seniors, at 47.9 percent.
Although problems exist, Lyon called on people to view the report not as a definition of who Santa Monica’s youth are, but how much work there is to do to improve their chances in the wider world.
Sharing resources and information to make that happen is the whole point of Cradle-to-Career, which strives to create a safety net to support community youth by coordinating the strengths of the 30 agencies involved.
In doing so, officials hope to achieve not only a better result for kids, but save money and time by addressing problems as a community rather than through smaller, less effective efforts undertaken by each of the groups individually.
That is near impossible when organizations with resources and programs work independently rather than combining their data and resources to accomplish the goal, said Jonathan Mooney, a nationally-recognized speaker and member of the task force.
“We need to break down these silos and create an integrated system that supports kids,” Mooney said.
This intense focus on youth well-being emerged out of tragedy.
In 2009, Richard Manuel Juarez was shot and killed in Virginia Avenue Park, a victim of gang violence. The Pico Youth & Family Center and other community groups called for a response, which became the Youth Resource Team Policy Group in 2010.
Nearly two years of planning and work passed before the Youth Resource Team announced the creation of the Cradle-to-Career initiative at a conference at the RAND Corporation in March.
It’s the kind of thing that Santa Monica is known for, a best practice that will be replicated in other cities and counties throughout the nation, said Mayor Richard Bloom.
“Welcome to an important beginning,” he said. “It will lead to something extraordinary down the line.”
How, exactly, the report card will proceed is still up in the air, said Julie Rusk, assistant director of the Community and Cultural Services Department.
Pulling the report card together involved borrowing staff from their regular tasks. A continuing effort may require more dedicated personnel, which takes resources that are scarce in city governments these days.
With those uncertainties, no one knows when an updated report card will be available as a check-up on the initiative’s progress.
It will happen, Rusk promised.
Those interested in looking through the current report card will be able to do so this week at http://www.santamonicayouth.net