Foundation for the Future:

The Importance of a

Town of Manchester Agenda for the

First Two Decades of Life

Adapted for the Town of Manchester

Onsite-Insights

2008

WHY INVEST IN CHILDREN AND YOUTH?

"Our future depends on how we treat [our] children." Richard Stolley in Money Magazine

The greater Manchester's investment is in its children, the greater return it will realize when they become adults. Supporting families and their children through the first two decades of life helps ensure that those youth people will become valuable resources to the community and its workforce rather than a drain on resources through high cost social programs and lost earning power.

WHY INVEST NOW?

“The significant problems we face today cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”  Albert Einstein

Manchester has already made significant investments in its young people and families. However, the town still faces increasing challenges of diminishing resources, increasing needs, and a changing, more diverse population.

In today's society, many developmental infrastructures are crumbling. Families are feeling more isolated with many living in poverty. Children are spending only a fraction of their time with family compared to a decade ago, leaving parents less time to accomplish a more daunting task than faced by previous generations. Many youth are adrift, feeling alienated from school and community, and susceptible to influence from negative environments, the media and "Madison Avenue."

Older neighborhoods, intertwined in a spiral of disinvestment, are losing their ability to support families, putting extraordinary stress on the schools to help students succeed. Additional pressure is exerted on our public and private schools from the litany of mandated legislation requiring compliance with standards that go under funded. The same is true for Manchester’s non-profits who are asked to solve the town’s ever-more-complex children, youth and family problems. There is rarely funding to adequately train staff and almost never support that encourages them to try new approaches or to break the dominant, yet ineffective paradigm.

Manchester's well-being, indeed its economic vitality, depends on how well the it supports its most vulnerable members and recognizes its shared responsibility to ensure the healthy development of all children and youth and the support of struggling families.

A common sentiment is that "we must invest in children because they are our future." However, research provides even more compelling evidence for the need to pay attention to a youth agenda.

  • Children who are born healthy and raised by parents who are involved in their lives and learning are more likely to succeed in school.
  • Children with positive early childhood learning experiences are less likely, as young adults, to be involved in crime or receive public assistance.
  • Children raised without violence in their home are far more likely to use peaceful conflict resolution when they are older; those who witness violence are more likely to use it.
  • Children who read at grade level by third grade have a greater probability of succeeding in school and in the workforce.
  • Young people who experience a greater number of developmental assets are less likely to be involved with risky behaviors and more likely to adopt positive behaviors.
  • Young people with specific life skills are more prepared for success in the workforce.
  • Youth engaged in civic responsibilities are more likely to carry that behavior to adulthood.

 

HOW AN INVESTMENT WORKS

"Child and adolescent development is not a set of unrelated stages or steps, but rather a continuous process, with early experiences and opportunities helping to shape later ones . . .This calls for continuous attention to the foundation of healthy development throughout the life span.”

Peter Benson in All Kids are Our Kids

Supporting children through the first two decades of life can be analogous to building a house. Just as a structurally sound house is built from the foundation upward, within each developmental stage from birth to adulthood, certain milestones must be met in order for a young person to grow to the next stage. These developmental opportunities become the Manchester must face, ensuring that as many youth as possible meet all of them.

The early years: before birth to eight

Using the analogy of the house, early childhood experiences lay the foundation for a child's success as an adult. Much has been documented in the literature about the relationship of healthy births and early childhood experiences to positive outcomes later in life. A child’s brain develops according to heredity and early life experiences. Early experiences directly affect the way the brain is wired, creating the equipment needed for lifelong learning and successful relationships. As the child grows older, neural connections that are not reinforced through activity disappear.

Key Early Year's Outcomes

  • Children are born healthy
  • Children enter school ready to learn
  • Children read at grade level by the third grade

 

A stable, safe and loving family is essential for nurturing, stimulating and teaching the child. Children who are touched, played with and read to are more likely to thrive. The process of learning to read begins at birth and continues until approximately age eight. Reading to a preschool child on a daily basis is one of the best ways to stimulate early brain development and to build early literacy skills. In addition, reading to a young child builds a nurturing relationship between the child and the reader and promotes healthy social and emotional development.

A parent's ability to nurture, teach, support and ensure health care for a child influences the child's readiness for school. Efforts that support parents in carrying out these responsibilities result in improved parenting skills and enhanced child development.

Quality pre-schools create an additional support system for families and assist children to become physically, socially and emotionally ready for school.

The middle years: eight to fourteen

Continuing the analogy of building a house, the middle years build the framework that shapes and strengthens the structure. Each child begins to create a conceptual and moral framework for how the world works and their role in the world. After spending the first eight years learning to read, they now begin reading to learn. Children begin to get a wider sense of the world around them, beyond their immediate family and neighborhood. Parents are challenged to keep up with changes in their child, while monitoring increased challenges from the world around them. Academics are important at this age; however, a child's social and emotional development also figures prominently. Acquiring these new life skills can even impact academic success.

Key middle year's outcomes:

  • Young people report 30 or more assets
  • Young people acquire specific life skills
  • Young people pass the Connecticut Mastery (CMT) and Academic Performance Tests (CAPT)

 

This stage is critical for building assets that will shape the child's knowledge, skills, abilities, and character. Young people who approach this stage of life with few assets are at great risk for failure in high school and, ultimately, as adults. Those with more assets have a greater chance of success. As children leave childhood behind and enter adolescence their success rests on two key components:

  • Caring families, schools and neighborhoods; and
  • Personal responsibility and character development.

Investments made in these two areas will create a town in which children can build on their early childhood foundations to make a smooth transition to adolescence and in so doing; build a strong framework that will allow them to be successful adults.

 

The teen years: fourteen through nineteen

In this phase the house takes on the shape and character that allows it to stand with its own unique identity. The foundation and framework have shaped its general direction -- only now will the full potential, the utility, beauty, and livability of the structure be visible.

Over the past 10 years, a new way of thinking has emerged about the teen years and defining the outcomes Manchester wants for our youth. Unfortunately, our culture has become so expert at articulating what we don't want for our youth (drug use, violence, pregnancy) we have mistaken these as outcomes of what we do want for them. But being free of problems does not equate with being prepared for success, or being fully engaged in the community and all aspects of one’s life.

A youth development approach, which sees youth in terms of their assets, contributions, and their potential success, is the necessary approach for the youth agenda at this stage. There remains a need for services such as family support, prevention of specific problems, and treatment for youth with serious problems. However, Manchester's investment must ensure that all youth (including those in foster care, juvenile justice, etc.) have the supports and opportunities that help them develop the knowledge, skills and personal attributes that prepare them for adulthood.

Key outcomes:

  • Young people graduate from high school
  • Young people are on a path to pursue a career goal
  • Young people are engaged in civic responsibility

 

Ultimately, Manchester wants young people to be competent, caring, and committed. This interplay of mastering various aspects of ability and becoming a contributing member of Manchester results in confident young men and women who are better prepared to assume their roles as worker, neighbor, parent, and leader.

It is essential that teens are seen as resources to Manchester's youth agenda. Not only do they possess the ability to support their own positive development, they carry the insight to help improve the community for other youth.

What’s Next?

Protecting our investment: A note about young adults

Most young adults have choices when deciding where to live, work and raise their families. For Manchester to be a top choice, it must be an attractive place for them to invest. Economic opportunities, career choices, schools, real estate, and quality of life all play a role in these decisions. The quality of a person's youth development experiences will also influence a choice to return to a community if it has been a caring and supportive place. It is to the town's advantage to remain connected to - to track, connect with, and involve - all our young adults. Not only can they help determine the results of the initial investments in them; they can become the new generation of support in achieving the town’s strategic goals.

 

The challenge Manchester faces is how to leverage current successes to create a seamless system of support for its young people throughout the first two decades of life. Creating a comprehensive, strategically focused, family support and youth development system is the most effective way to protect the investments already being made and grow those investments to maximize return. To be successful, Manchester will need to:

  • Build on successes. It is important to "stay the course" and continue to invest in the things that are working. The goals of ensuring literacy, building developmental assets, and preparing youth for the future need to be prominent throughout the next decade and it will be important to increase the focus on them.
  • Address the challenges. With limited resources, Manchester must find creative ways to increase the supports available to those in need while "casting a wider net" to involve an ever-increasing number of youth and families.
  • Build partnerships. Essential to success will be a strong alliance between local government and the schools and a wider variety of community partners who care about young people and their families. It is essential to discover the best ways to enlist youth as resources for their creative expertise and willing assistance in the issues that impact them.
  • Re-group, re-energize. Internally, government, schools and service providers need to overcome artificial barriers and bureaucratic and competitive differences in order to focus the efforts on working together to achieve shared, mutually accountable outcomes.

CONCLUSION

Manchester's children are on a developmental journey from birth to adulthood. Their success will be largely due to external supports available to them throughout their developmental stages, and internal qualities they are able to develop along the way. A mark of a healthy Manchester is the extent to which these supports are provided to as many youth and their families as possible.

Manchester wants all young people to have every opportunity to be healthy, principled and creative - to find things they are good at, to have the confidence to pursue their dreams, and to be surrounded by people who care about and support them. As they move into adulthood they need the skills and abilities to earn a living wage and contribute positively as citizens of Manchester while gaining an ever-increasing voice in decisions that affect them.

Manchester's economic vitality, the strength of its workforce, and its "livability" as a community will depend upon its continued support of families and its attention to the developmental needs of young people throughout the first two decades of life.
spacer