Spring 1990 // Volume 28 // Number 1 // To The Point // 1TP3

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Youth at Risk-Time for Action


Sharon K. Junge
County Director
Placer-Nevada Counties
University of California
Cooperative Extension

Poverty, broken families, physical and mental abuse, drug and alcohol addiction, prostitution, and homelessness are becoming everyday experiences for many of our youth. These youngsters are being robbed of their childhood and we as a nation are being robbed of our future. Many observers and players are questioning what is or should be Extension's role in assisting these at-risk youth. Sauer even questions whether Extension can accept the challenge.

Extension can and should address these issues. In fact, all Extension programs should be problem-focused. We can't be satisfied with the comfortable position of status quo. We won't be able to solve these complex problems alone, but we can and should be contributors to their solutions.

From all levels of the organization, we're hearing logical rhetoric and sound advice on how to address and prepare for needed change. Increased flexibility in staffing, resource allocation, and program delivery structures are suggested. The need to seek other sources of funding beyond the public sector is also stressed. Shifting our focus to issues rather than traditional clientele is urged. Most also underscore the need to be interdisciplinary and integrated in our approach as well as drawing more heavily on the entire land-grant system.

These strategies should be adopted throughout the entire system. However, we in 4-H can't wait for all these changes to be implemented. What's needed now is action. Voids exist in upper-level leadership, shortages in resources, and reductions in staff, but again, we can't afford to wait. We need to develop the leadership momentum at the level closest to the problem - in the county. Not all staff will immediately embrace these changes, but the problems are so great, important roles exist for everyone.

We need to build on our strengths. The comprehensive national network of the Extension System, our access to local clientele in nearly every county in the nation, the tremendous resources of the land-grant system, and our competent and dedicated staff are significant resources.

Our traditional programs have been good preventive investments. By redefining their purpose and updating their relevance, these efforts can be effective and meaningful.

Innovation and creativity do exist in our current programs. The Youth at Risk report cites numerous examples of successful issues-oriented programming. We need to learn from these pioneers. They have blazed trails under the most dire circumstances, with few resources, and still have been successful. Continued support of this type of experimentation and the replication of these programs will have substantial impact on the problems.

The enormity of the problem and the frustrations of facilitating change can promote disillusionment. We must resist despair. We'll need to dissect the problems into addressable issues, encourage satisfaction in smaller achievements, and remain confident that problems are solved through an accumulation of smaller successes.

No quick fixes or cosmetic solutions exist for these complex problems. We must fight against conformity of programs, promote innovation, thrive on diversity, and be vocal and articulate in expressing our support of change. We must act now, for the consequences of our inactivity will be great!