Why We Support the Harris County Youth Collective

By Lisa Hall, vice president for programs, and Tonyel Edwards, program officer

Sept. 17 marked the official public debut of the Harris County Youth Collective, a group of public and private partners committed to improving the coordination of the child protective and juvenile justice systems toward better outcomes for youth in Harris County.

Houston Endowment first became involved with this effort two years ago, when we learned that stakeholders in the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department (HCJPD) and the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) were having conversations about how to better support our young people who found themselves at the intersection of both systems, known in the field as “dual-status” youth.

We were invited to attend an early meeting and observed agency leaders who were deeply engaged and reflecting honestly on the current state of affairs for our young people. They weren’t pointing fingers. They were genuinely interested in taking action and finding solutions to improve the outcomes for all children in our community.

At their request, we provided financial support to hire a consultant, and later full-time staff, to help them form HCYC, identify and implement national best practices and create a structure inclusive of youth and community.

Today, we are thrilled to see that the collaborative spirit in which this effort began continues. We played a role in connecting the HCYC to resources, but it is thanks to the commitment of the members to openness, collective listening and learning and shared vision – and thanks to community buy-in – that HCYC has made real progress toward systems-level outcomes.

That remarkable progress includes the following:

HCJPD and DFPS have dedicated full-time staff and teams to implement new strategies.
The district attorney now has a dedicated prosecutor for dual-status youth.
Over 400 staff within HCJPD and DFPS have received training on how to handle dual-status cases and understand the complexities of needs for dual-status youth.
Each of the agencies and the local juvenile courts system have begun implementing Georgetown University Center for Juvenile Justice Reform’s crossover youth practice model.

We applaud the stakeholders for their willingness to dig in and continue to push themselves and each other for better outcomes for our particularly vulnerable youth.

How we see our role
At Houston Endowment, we envision a vibrant region where all have the opportunity to thrive. We try to place our resources where they will provide the biggest impact. So it may seem counter-intuitive for us to invest in an effort that, on its surface, appears to serve only a small number of youth. But dual-status youth are among our most vulnerable. What we learn from better serving children in both systems will help us better serve children in either – which number in the thousands. And, as demonstrated by the list above, positive changes are happening in these systems.

Moreover, we recognize that large-scale change takes more than financial support. In this case, we have provided not just our dollars, but our staff’s expertise and learnings from other initiatives. We have also been able to facilitate connections to help bring the right people to the table in the early stages of the HCYC.

Finally, we know that philanthropy cannot and should not replace government spending on public goods and services, but we are open to working alongside government in a way that plays to our respective strengths. For us to invest in government, we look for buy-in from the entities that have the leadership and capacity to drive for changes. We saw that with the HCYC: systems leaders who were deeply committed, were willing to engage in a healthy examination of their practices for the benefit of children, and were invested in that journey. We made a small initial investment in providing the Collective with technical assistance, and subsequent investment has come from the agencies themselves.

HCYC In the News
“New Harris County Collective to Benefit Kids in CPS And Juvenile Justice Systems,” by Elizabeth Trovall. Houston Public Media, Sept. 17, 2018.